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Nesting Cover Management

An image of a field with trees in the background; this is an ideal place for quail to nest

Native warm season grasses can be planted to augment nesting cover in areas where it is lacking. Using a light mix of 3 to 5 lbs of grasses like little bluestem combined with native wildflowers can provide nesting and brood rearing cover. There is never a need for grass cover to exceed 40% to 50% even for nesting cover.

Because nests are usually built of vegetation from previous years, leave some areas of older growth for this purpose unless they are absolutely too dense or littered. Preserve even marginally good nesting cover until improvements can be made if none other exists. Where the existing plant composition for nesting is satisfactory but bare ground is lacking, lightly disc the area to correct the problem. Allow the disc only to cut deep enough to “thin” the vegetation and turn up a small amount of soil. This technique also works well to disturb the soil and promote plant diversity in monolithic stands of broomsedge and other bunch-type grasses. Periodic burning will also remove ground litter and stimulate the growth of grasses and forbs.

In the absence of nesting cover, a mixture of legumes and warm- or cool-season bunch grasses can be lightly seeded. Such seedings are suitable for nesting a year or two after planting, and their attractiveness will increase as native forbs and some woody plants invade. In and around crop fields, install or expand filter strips and field borders using bunch grasses and legumes. A wide strip or a patch over an acre in size is safer nesting cover than a narrow strip, as these can more easily be hunted by predators.

Of those fields to be winter burned, locate fire lines 40-50 feet from field edges, drainages and tree lines to preserve any suitable nesting cover. The same applies when discing. Also leave some herbaceous growth for 40 or 50 feet surrounding clumps of woody plants within fields being burned or disced. In large, undisturbed fields, disc strips 20 to 30 feet wide at several hundred feet intervals to provide the nearby opening and bare ground that quail seek when selecting a nest site. Disced early in the year, sufficient regrowth will occur to provide readily available brood cover. Remember, any treatment of potential nesting cover should be done outside of the April through September nesting season.