Nit-Picking Habitat Management: Working with What's There
Grass is grass to quail. They don't know the difference between bermuda, brome, bahia or broomsedge. Quail do know good habitat. Good habitat, especially nesting and brooding cover, will have excellent plant structure (i.e. clumps of grass, height, density, etc.) and plant diversity. Ideal brooding cover and nesting cover for quail is best described as scattered clumps of grass, a variety of forbs and legumes, and lots of bareground. Good nesting cover and brooding cover are major components to good quail habitat. The other key habitat type is shrubby cover.
How can you improve nesting and brooding cover on your property? Wildlife biologists usually recommend converting grass fields or crop field edges to native warm-season grasses, wildflowers and legumes. I couldn't agree more. This is a great way to create excellent nesting and brooding cover. The scattered clumps of grass provide idea cover for nests and native wildflowers and legumes usually mean there's plenty of bare ground and insects (brooding cover).
Often we convert fescue, brome or bermuda fields to native warm-season grass by first eradicating the vegetation and then planting warm-season grass and wildflowers. This often involves multiple herbicide treatments and using a no-till drill to plant the seed. This is a great way to improve nesting and brooding cover for quail, but in some cases it is unnecessary. In some fields we should consider working with what's already there.
For example, most fescue fields will have some scattered patches of native warm-season grasses. Why not kill out the fescue and work with the broomsedge and other native vegetation that's already there. Take for example the picture below. This fescue hay field has several scattered patches of broomsedge, big bluestem and some Indian grass (the taller, reddish-brown grass).
As a general rule, if 15 to 20 percent of the field has scattered patches of native grass there's probably enough grass for nesting cover. If I already have enough grass (nesting cover), why should I plant more? In some cases you might want to replant the field to prevent soil erosion or for natural community restoration. However, if 15 to 20 percent of the field is in scattered clumps of broomsedge or other clump grasses it's almost perfect for quail. The picture below is a fescue field with adequate grass cover for nesting. The fescue has been eradicated and the remain grass is broomsedge. There's no reason to replant this