Frequently Asked Questions

1. What should I plant in my food plot?

2. Where can I find native grass and wildflower seed (forbs and legumes) for my habitat project?

3. Why was my native grass and wildflower planting a failure? All I seem to have are weeds.

4. Can I establish quail on my property with pen-raised birds?

1. What should I plant in my food plot?

Food plots are not a silver bullet for increasing wildlife on your property. Food plots have become popular in mainstream outdoor magazine articles and advertising. You can't seem to open a magazine without seeing an article or advertisement for food plots establishment, seed, or equipment. Anything associated with food plots has become a high dollar money maker for many companies who target hunters' expendable incomes with promises to grow more and bigger deer and turkey. The reason food plots have become so mainstream, in the modern hunting culture is because nothing makes a landowner feel like they have done something beneficial for wildlife then watching something they planted grow. Food plots really are nothing more than attractants with the sole goal of concentrating deer, turkey, quail, and even waterfowl for easier hunting.

Proper management of habitat will provide wildlife with all the essential food necessary for survival. The irony of food plots is that many times a landowner will tear up good habitat in order to put in a food plot. The landowner does not realize that by destroying the good habitat, they force the wildlife they are interested in having on their property to leave. If you truly want to do something for wildlife then create "Nature's Food Plot" through proper management of your habitat. If you insist on establishing a food plot you need to first realize "Habitat is the Key "and food plots are the polish on the lock. If you only have the polish you cannot open the lock. If you have the key, but no polish you can still open the lock. The polish is not necessary it just makes things more aesthetically pleasing to you and is not necessarily of any value to wildlife.

For those insisting on the need to establish a food plot the following publication has information on planning and establishment.

PB1769 - A Guide to Successful Wildlife Food Plots Blending Science with Common Sense

To learn more about establishing "Nature's Food Plots" through good habitat management check out our Manage Habitat section.

2. Where can I find native grass and wildlflower seed (forb and legumes) for my habitat project?

There are a number of suppliers and growers of native grasses and forbs. Be careful when purchasing wildflower seeds as some companies sell invasive exotics that they call "wildflowers" . Click here for a list of suppliers of native plant seeds.

Top of Page

3. Why was my native grass and wildflower planting a failure? All I seem to have are weeds.

If this is the first year of your native grass and wildflower planting do not give up hope yet. Native grasses and wildlfowers take a minimum of two growing season before they will become noticable in your field. Native grasses and wildlflowers have a high dormancy rate so often they need to be stratified by go through at least one winter of cold weather before they will germinate. For those seeds that do not need stratification, germination probably occured if you did not plant to late and conditions are right. The native grasses and wildflowers that germinated typically put a lot of energy in growing roots and very little in growth above the surface. This means that there may only be one or two small leaves growing above ground the first year. For additional informaton check out our section on Native Grass and Forb Establishment and Management Basics.

Top of Page

4. Can I establish quail on my property with pen-raised birds?

Once Again, Pen-Raised Quail NOT the Answer

Craig Harper
Professor, Wildlife Management
University of Tennessee
I continue to get requests for information regarding pen-raised quail. Many people want to see more quail and reestablish populations of bobwhites. However, releasing pen-raised birds is not the answer!
Years ago (1930's - 1950's), state wildlife agencies throughout the country hatched and pen-raised millions of bobwhites. Upon release, they were to bolster and reestablish quail populations. All of these efforts failed. Millions of dollars were spent. Wildlife managers learned a lot in the process. Since, much has been learned in the private sector about raising pen-raised bobwhites. However, efforts to keep them "wild," feeding programs, soft-release techniques, etc. have not led to a single reestablished population.
Pen-raised quail lack behavioral characteristics of wild birds. This should not be surprising as pen-raised birds are domesticated stock, which have been selected over time to be docile enough to survive in pens and raised in a most unnatural way. Many of these domesticated birds will not nest, and some that do will not incubate their clutch. It has also been noted for a pen-raised female to incubate her clutch and, upon hatching, simply walk off and leave the brood. Without the hen, chicks die quickly, either from exposure, starvation, or predation. In short, pen-raised quail have never been found to be able to sustain a population.

In addition to the behavioral traits, mortality among pen-raised bobwhites is extraordinary. This is understandable as the birds have not learned to avoid or escape predators by the proper rearing of a wild adult hen or cock bird. They are relying on innate instincts, which are obviously lacking after generations of domestication.

Although behavioral issues can be problematic, some pen-raised bobwhites have been found to reproduce, nest, and raise a brood if they are released where some wild quail still persist. However, domesticated birds should never be released where wild birds still persist! Pen-raised birds readily associate with wild birds. In fact, they interbreed. This is not good; research has shown the genetic integrity of a wild population may be sacrificed after only 2 years of releasing pen-raised birds just prior to the nesting season.

Another problem associated with pen-raised bobwhites is transmission of diseases into the local wild population (if one exists), which can lead to increased mortality for native birds. Domestic quail are raised under the same conditions as other poultry, such as chickens and turkeys, and are subject to many domestic poultry diseases.

Regardless of the problems associated with pen-raised bobwhites, these birds would not persist to re-establish a population even if reproduction and mortality were not a problem. The real problem is they do not have an adequate place to live; that is, the habitat is not suitable. Have you ever wondered why the native birds are no longer there, or why the population is not increasing?!? If native birds are present, why would releasing domesticated birds cause the population to increase if the current wild population cannot increase on its own?!? The environmental pressures that are limiting population growth have not been removed. If the area does not currently support bobwhites, there is a reason.

Many factors have contributed to declining quail populations: 1) habitat destruction (quail can't live in shopping centers, parking lots, and subdivisions, so there is less area available), 2) changing land-use practices (large "clean" farms with no suitable cover; conversion of row-crop farming to pastures and hayfields of tall fescue and bermudagrass), and, yes, 3) increased numbers of predators (nobody traps anymore). We have also learned that habitat improvement on relatively small properties (less than 1,000 acres) surrounded by poor bobwhite habitat may not help bobwhite populations. A landscape effort is needed.
That doesn't mean you should not try to improve habitat for bobwhites and other wildlife that use early successional habitat, but it does accentuate the importance of working with your neighbors and trying to impact as large of an area as possible.
Over the past few years, several research projects have studied and identified what we need to do to bring quail back to appreciable numbers. Every study points to habitat-improving habitat conditions to once again favor the year-round needs of bobwhites is the key to restoring bobwhite populations. Not pen-raised birds.

Top of Page

  What to do when

Use the planning calendar below for tips on enhancing your land throughout the year. Click any of the selections below for more details.