Disappearing foliage-laden fence rows long have been blamed for the demise of quail throughout the nation's agricultural belt. The birds depend heavily upon such structure for cover and nesting, and biologists and sportsmen have been studying ways to improve their habitat.
The National Wild Turkey Federation has taken an interest in small birds, too. It recently hired Roger Wells of Americus, Kan., as its upland wildlife biologist. He previously had served as national habitat director for Quail Unlimited, Inc., another national organization that supports conservation.
Wells, whose job includes creating seed combos and programs to assist landowners in wildlife enhancement, discussed his focus at the recent NWTF convention in Nashville.
"Quail and turkeys go hand-in-hand," he said. "A lot of what we do for turkeys impacts quail. A lot of what I have done in quail management affects turkeys.
"When they're hatched, they have to forage on their own. The only difference is that one roosts on the ground, the other in trees - except for western quail. They roost in trees."
Wells and his wife, Nancy, own and operate AnDiShe Farm in Kansas' Lyon County. They have won a number of awards for managing their land for wildlife. He once was named wildlife conservationist of the year for Kansas.
Wells earned a degree in fish and wildlife biology from Kansas State University and has 37 years of experience in the field.
While fence rows decline, there are plants that can benefit quail, he explained in Nashville. Those include Indian grass, Big and Little Bluestem grass and native shrubs.
"And why do we plant wildflowers in quail country?" he asked. "Seeds come from them, and these attract insects."
Insects appeal to both quail and turkeys as food.
It's crucial that quail have cover in the summer for their widely fluctuating body temperatures then, Wells said.
"In the spring and summer," he said, "they need grass and weed seeds, grain, fruits and insects. In the winter, they need weed seeds, grass seed and berries as food.
"Over a thousand different seeds have been identified as quail food."
A Kansas State study indicated that ragweed seeds are best for providing energy for quail, Wells said.
He added that roadsides, open woodlands, cropland borders and pastures all are important quail habitat.
"Basic bobwhite habitat needs are residual cover, typically grasses from the previous growing season," he said, "with the cover of height 6 to 18 inches, preferably 8 to 12, in a clump of grass about the size of a basketball."
Wells has cattle on about three-fourths of his Kansas farm, he said.
"Eighty percent of the (quail) nests are within 25 feet of the edge," he explained, adding that not mowing that area will save most of the nests.
NWTF officials and quail fanciers alike are hopeful that added quail emphasis will improve conditions for small and big birds alike.