So, with shrub cover of such importance to quail, managing for suitable shrub cover should be a goal for all land managers wishing to hear their call. For properties lacking suitable shrub cover it may be as simple as allowing small shrubs to grow and thickets to develop and expand. Mowing and spraying should be avoided where thickets are needed and/or desired. Heavy grazing can also limit the growth and suitability of shrub thickets, so this too should be monitored. Nearly all shrubs are fire tolerant and some benefit from fire, so prescribed burning isn’t generally a threat when it comes to shrub management. However, occasionally protecting select thickets from fire may be warranted if suitable thickets are in short supply, especially those that are known covey headquarters. Still, thickets can be overtaken by trees, especially eastern red cedar, and fire is a good tool to keep this in check.
Planting can also be an option on some properties. Sand plum and sumac species can be purchased from some nurseries in bare root bundles and planted in thickets using landscape fabric or thick mulch to lessen the weed competition and retain moisture. As a guide, it takes about 100 seedlings to produce a thicket of “ideal” size for quail, with each seedling planted about four feet apart throughout a 30-foot by 50-foot grid-like pattern. Some planting mortality will occur but surviving shrubs will expand through growth and root offshoots. Protecting these recently planted thickets from fire is a good rule, at least until their root systems are well established, which is often evident by their above ground growth.
In short, shrub cover is critical for quail, but shrubs also provide valuable food and cover for a large variety of wildlife. Combining shrub management with other quail-friendly tools like prescribed burning, strategic grazing, disking, and, if needed, prairie restoration is a good way to help bring back the frequent call of these iconic Oklahoma birds.