Pineywoods Wildlife Management
Before entering into a discussion on bobwhite quail, it should be noted that the Pineywoods Ecological region of east Texas is not known as a good quail producing area of the state. Although, prior to about the 1970's, quail populations were usually good enough for quail hunters to keep a bird dog and look forward to the quail season each year, however that is not the case now. In earlier years, there were more native pastures, rural family gardens, disking and soil disturbance that created early plant succession, and other situations that benefited quail. Additionally, wild and prescribed burns were much more prevalent in pine stands, which created desirable understory conditions for quail. As more acreage was planted to dense monoculture tame pasture, less quail habitat was available. In the 1970's, the imported red fire ant began it's move into the region, steadily moving northward. Studies indicate that they have made an impact on quail and other ground dwelling/nesting wildlife. Besides their direct impact on animals by stinging (one to two fire ant stings can kill a few days-old quail D. Wilson study), their reduction of the insect food base probably is the most detrimental to quail populations.
In relative terms, the overall habitat types occurring in the region are not as suitable for quail as those found in south Texas or north-central Texas. Also, quail population densities tend to vary greatly from year to year, even in the best quail producing regions of the state. The timing and amount of fall and winter rainfall are thought to be the most critical factors that determine quail breeding success and survivability during the next year (adequate amounts of fall/winter rains improve soil moisture and promotes the early growth of herbaceous plants).
Basic Habitat Requirements
Bobwhite quail must have a year-round adequate supply of food and reasonable protection from hazards. This includes protection from predators while feeding, resting, loafing, roosting, traveling, and nesting, as well as protection from inclement weather conditions. Both food and cover supply must be stable or continuously renewed during the entire year. It is not enough that food and cover be adequate for 11 months, if either is lacking during a single month.
Food and cover must occur in a well-arranged pattern if they are to comprise quail habitat. The distance between a source of ample food and adequate cover must not be greater than what a quail can negotiate with safety. As a rule of thumb, bobwhites venture no further than 200 yards from patches of cover. Ideally, escape cover should be linked to food supplies with more or less continuous screening cover. Overgrazed pastures do not provide adequate screening cover. However, the screening cover must not be dense enough to create an obstacle to the quail's short-legged gait. Dense stands of thick grass (tame pasture monocultures) cannot be easily negotiated. Without a suitable space relationship, a range will not be habitable for quail regardless of the quality or amount of food and cover present. In fact, ideal quail habitat consists of 30 - 60 percent bare ground interspersed with cover, forbs, and seed producing plants. This permits ease of movement and location of seeds and insects, especially for newly hatched quail.