Introduction to property based game management - Stubble Quail
Property Based Game Management (PBGM) is designed to improve ecosystem management approaches on private land. The primary focus of a PBGM project for Stubble Quail (Coturnix pectoralis) is to improve habitats on private properties by encouraging rural landholders to maintain or enhance suitable habitat mosaics on their properties.
Stubble Quail are the only native quail species that can be legally hunted in Victoria.
The Stubble Quail is the most common quail species occurring in Australia and is found in Queensland and much of south-eastern and south-western Australia, across a range of habitat types such as grasslands, improved and native pasture. The breeding season and range is variable depending on the availability of food.
Compared to other Australian quail species the Stubble Quail is a large plump bird and can be easily distinguished by a loud whirring of its wings when flushed.
The open season for Stubble Quail in Victoria is from the first Saturday in April to the last day in June annually, and a bag limit of a maximum of 20 birds per day is applied (Note: the bag limits may change in response to environmental conditions).
Habitat needs for Stubble Quail
Stubble Quail are found in grassland, crops, shrub-steppe and occasionally heathlands. They are nomadic and will move when the food is gone.
To maintain a Stubble Quail population throughout the year, they need to have a varied range of habitats for food and cover. Two essential structural components are top cover and ground cover.
Top cover is the tall open growth that provides shelter from view. It can be grass, cereal straw, lucerne, canegrass or other similar type growths. The height is not critical and can range from 10cm to as tall as 75cm. However, top cover between the heights of 25 to 50 cm seems to be a desired range.
Top cover is considered too dense when it completely shades the ground preventing the growth of herbs and medics.
It is considered too sparse when Stubble Quail are not sheltered from the view above. Although not its primary function, top cover is often a food source.
Ground cover is lower-growing herbage of several species that provides much of the Stubble Quail's food. Ground cover is of critical importance both in its abundance and species diversity. Scattered ground cover supports few quail and a well developed cover of only one species will only hold them for a limited period. The largest and most permanent quail populations are found when the ground cover is well developed and includes many different species of food plants. Ground cover will also encourage insects, a significant food source.
If ground cover is too dense, or top cover falls over to form a dense mat, it can impede quail movement and foraging. It can also prevent chicks from drying out during wet periods which can result in death.
In Victoria, the annual peak in Stubble Quail breeding is between August and December. The nest, prepared by the female, is usually made in thick cover and is a shallow scrape in the ground which is lined with grass.
Incubation of usually about 7 to 8 yellow to light brown eggs is done solely by the female, over a period of 18 days. The young leave the nest almost immediately after hatching and the chicks require a few "must have" needs which are, freedom of movement at ground level, overhead concealment and a diverse range of green plants.
Parents force the young to leave the breeding territory at about 6 weeks. At this point the young are fully feathered and about two-thirds grown. Hunting of quail is timed to coincide with the post breeding season.
Providing the ideal habitat starts with the development of a management plan for your property. The plan will need to consider and assess all the on farm activities, with consideration given to which areas and modifications need to be made to develop and maintain good quail habitat. Insects are critical to the survival and development of quail, so habitat development for insects is also essential.
Fire can be one of the most important quail habitat management tools. Burning performs several vital functions such as removing accumulated litter and stimulating new growth. Native grasslands that are burnt periodically have a wider diversity of plant species which will be beneficial to quail and the removal of litter aids bird movement.
The flush of new growth will increase seed production and the ability for quail to feed is improved. Only burn manageable areas with a mosaic or patchwork.
The use of shallow ploughing is another effective tool available to improve quail habitat. Quail need to be able to move to and from their feeding and cover areas. Done in winter, prior to the breeding season, disking will facilitate new growth providing a good food source for the new chicks through spring and early summer.
Stocking with cattle or sheep at high rates for a short period of time can be used to prevent excess grass cover. Excess grass cover may have a negative affect on vegetation diversity. Landowners may also want to vary when they stock paddocks to ensure over grazing does not occur.
Experiments throughout the world have shown that restricting grazing greatly improves insect abundance.
Other grazing regimes and practices which contribute to healthy quail populations include:
- leaving edges of fields ungrazed
- leaving roadsides ungrazed, particularly during nesting
- limiting the use of herbicides and pesticides, particularlyalong field edges (herbicides and pesticides greatly affect theproduction of insects and subsequent reduction in quail health
- retaining areas of stubble
- instigation of mosaic cropping instead of broad-scalecropping over vast areas.
Feral predator control
As Stubble Quail are a ground nesting bird it is vulnerable to predation by feral pests, such as foxes and cats. Regular control programs carried out on these pests can play an important role in maintaining healthy and viable quail populations. Foxes and cats are also a threat to livestock and native wildlife. The most common control methods include shooting and baiting. Integrating control programs with neighbours is recommended (see DEPI, Landcare or Good Neighbour Programs).
For details on hunting regulations contact the Department of Environment and Primary Industries on 136 186.
For aspects of planning contact either:
- DEPI Game Managers
- DEPI Biodiversity staff
- Landcare facilitators
- Good Neighbour Program
- Bushtender Program
- DEPI Customer Service