Two species of quail can be found in Oklahoma—the northern bobwhite’s range is nearly statewide, while the scaled quail is restricted to the western edge, including the panhandle. Both species are ground-dwellers, primarily foraging on seeds and insects. Areas with high amounts of forbs can act as a food source in two ways—providing nutritious seeds, and attracting protein-rich insects. Though insects are seasonal in nature, forb seeds are long lasting and can be utilized into fall and winter. Prime foraging or “bugging” areas have a wide diversity of forbs, including ragweeds, crotons, sunflowers and legumes.
In addition to a reliable food source, quail require adequate nesting, protective and loafing cover. Though able to nest in a variety of places, quail prefer building nests in mature native bunchgrasses 12 inches in diameter and eight inches in height. Once chicks hatch, they are immediately moved to “weedy” areas with high insect activity. Morning and afternoon feeding sessions are separated by time spent resting and digesting food while in loafing cover. Ideal cover is at least three feet tall with a closed canopy and relatively open ground conditions; sand shinnery and sand plum motts are prime examples of this cover type. As quail travel from roost sites, to foraging areas, to loafing cover, woody vegetation is needed to serve as predator protection. These habitat components are best suited in a random mixture.
Oklahoma has a long quail hunting tradition. Even though population surveys show quail numbers are down over most of the state—a trend observed throughout the entire southeastern United States—Oklahoma is one of the few remaining states where hunters can pursue relatively large numbers of wild quail. Hunters harvest an estimated one to two million birds a year in the state, which consistently ranks nationally in the top three for harvest.