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"LI B R.AFLY
state of Illinois
Henry Horner, Governor
Department of Registration and Education
John J. Hallilian, Director
QUAIL AND PHEASANT STUDIES IN AN ORCHARD COUNTY
Frank C. Eellrose, Jr.
Published by Authority of the State of Illinois
NATURAL HISTORY SURVEY
Theodore H. Prison, Chief
Biological Notes No. 13 Urbana , Illinois May, 1940
QUAIL AND PHEASANT STUDIES IN AN ORCHARD COUNTY
Frank C. Bellrose, Jr.'"'"
Illinois Natural History Survey
In the summer of 1938, nesting studies and population
estimates v/ere made of quail and pheasants in the lower third of
Calhoun County, Illinois. V/hile some cruising of orchards and hay
fields was undertaken to locate nests, most of the information on
which these studies are based was obtained by interviewing farmers,
during haying operations, in the field. Data were obtained on the
number of acres of various farmi crops , dates of mowing of forage
crops, and number of quail and pheasant nests found.
These studies were extensive rather than intensive and
were designed to shed some light on choice of nesting cover, nest-
ing losses due to m.owing, and relative density of quail and pheas-
ants in one of the better Illinois quail counties. It is well
knov;n that farmers engaged in cutting operations often overlook the
nests of upland gam.e birds, but the number of such nests overlooked
in Calhoun County is thought to be less than in most other parts of
the Middle V.'est because of the small fields and the scarcity of
tractor-drawn mov/ers and ralces in this county.
Calhoun County consists principally of a long, narrow
strip of rolling land between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers,
extending about 40 miles from north to south, with an average width
of 8 miles. Underlying the surface soil is a narrow lim.estone ridge,
elevated 200 to 300 feet above the rivers and flanked on either side
by their alluvial bottoms. Over this limestone ridge have been de-
posited m.aterials of the Quaternary Period, consisting of clays,
gravel and loess, which cover the ridge to a depth of 50 to 100 feet.
Form.erly heavily forested with oaks, hickories and maples,
the upland area has been cleared of m.ost of its native stand and
planted to apples, hay crops and grains. However, small woodlots
abound, and brushy fencerows and roadsides are the rule rather than
the exception. These form, an ideal interspersion of cover types.
Little corn is grown, but an excellent supply of the lesser ragv^reed
and other natural foods exists along fencerov/s , woodlots, roadsides,
creek banks and elsewhere.
-:;-The writer is indebted to Arthur S. Hawkins, who super-
vised this study, giving m.any helpful suggestions and criticisms.
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Nesting cover in Callioim County, table i, can td classified
according to four major types; (1) roadsides snd fencerov;s, (P) ap-
ple orchards, (3) hay fields and (4) graiii fields. Foadside t.nd
fencerow nesting cover is furnished largely b""' such plants as blue
grass ( Poa praete nsis ) ^ v/ild lettuce (Lactuca b\^.)j daisy fleaoane
( Srygeron sp. ) , blacl:beri-y (Rubus sp.) and" srnoouh sumac (R1tu_s glabra ',.
Apple orchards, ranging in size from 1 acre to aoout 300
acres, abound on the rolling hills and provide more acreage of quail
nesting cover than any of the othei' three types. Sines most of the
orchards are on rolling tei'rain, it is coranon practice t:. retard
erosion by seeding betv/een the trees with a miv.ture of red clover,
blue grass and brome grass. This practice has, of course, greatly
increased the quality of nesting cover in many orchards. In other
orchards, where invasion of vegetation inco bai-'i areas is allcv.ad to
take place, forbs and other coarse herbs predominate in the giound
cover. To facilitate spraying and pick_ng of apples, fruit gi cv;ers
generally cut the herbaceous \indergrov;th .in m.ldsujniiier . Luring the
1938 season, hov/ever, because of tne poor crop of apples, less than
50 per cent of the orchards were mov/ed; so poor in fact v^as the
apple crop that many orchards v«ere sprayed only once.
On the 70 or more farms studied in the lo\vOi thf rd of
Calhoun County in 1935, hay was grown on l,c37 aores , rso clover, he
most important hay crop, on 1^163 acretj alfalfa, the Soccna in irr -
portance, on 249 acres; sv/eet clover, on 175 acres. V/heal gro.vn jn
39 farms , comp-rlsed 95 per cent of the aci'cage of small gi p iru- . It
aggregated 1,568 acres.
Clean farming, as practiced in the Eig Pi-airie district of
Illinois, has greatly restricted the range of the bobwhite quail. At
present, good quail territory is found largely along the bluffs of
the Illinois and Llississippi rivers and :n the hill and tight subsoil
regions of southern Illinois. Calhoun County combines many of the
habitat characteristics of the river bluff and the liiil countries,
making it especially favorable to quail.,
Roadside Nes ting
Roadsides aggregating approxi-'»iately 20 m.iles in length,
about 25 acres in area, v/ere cut by a local tovnship comjnissiorier be-
tween May 27 and July 15. Cursory observation indicated that approx-
im.ately tv/o-thirds of this area, 16 acres, v/as suitable for nesting
cover. Table 1 shows the relative density of quail nests in these
16 acres of cut roadside cover as compared to the density in other
cover types. No data on uncut roadside cover :vt;re obtained.
Of the four nests found along the mowed roadside, three
Vi/ere in cL.umps of blue grass; the other was in a patch of fweet
clover. Two nests were deserted because of mowing; one nest hatched.
In one instance the fe.,iale returned to the nest only to have it
destroyed by a predator, probably a dog.
■ orchar d Nestin g
In 1958, of the 2,635 acres of grounu cover in apple
orchards on the 70 Calhoun County farms visited, 1,000 acres were
mowed. The numher of. acres of orchard ground cover mowed is re-
ported to vary considerably from year to year; It depends on the
crop of apples and the luxui'iance of the herbaceous xegeoation.
Fewer acres than usual were cut in 1938. : Moreover, orchards that
were mowed contained m.any scattered patches of uncut vegetation.
The number of quail nests reported in the 1,000 acren of mowed nest-
ing cover in orchards is shovm in table 1.
Despite some disturbance by the mxwer, 11 birds i-et^/rned
to their nests. Nests of two of these birds were subsequently de-
stroyed by predators, but nine nests hatclied. Each ol the 11 incu-
bating birds flushed ahead of the sickle bar, prompting the oreratc".'"
to raise the bar sufficiently to leave an island of vegetation
around the nest. Thirteen nests were destroyed by the mov.er. The
outcome of one nest v/as not determined.
In every Instance, quail nests in apple orchards v/ere
located in the open areas betv/een the rov;s of trees . respite care-
ful search, not one nest was found near the base of a tree; dlsT;ancss
fromi nest to nearest tree trunk varied from. 8 to 25 feet .. v^'ith an
average of 12 feet. The growth In the open areas evidently of Pert
better nesting cover than the sparse vegetation underneath the tree
canopy, where there is a deficiency of stinlight.
Of the 25 nests found in orchards, 3 were in red cl'^/er,
18 v/ere in a m.lxture of blue grass and daisy fleabane, and 1 was on
the bare ground, being roofed over v/ith dead blue-grass stems.
Hayf leld Ne_s_tlri£
Red Clover. --Of the 70 Calhoun County farms visited, 50
produced red clover on a total of 1,163 acres. Seven hundred fifty
acres were cut for hay; 413 were noo mowed. The 413 unmov/ed acres
were com.blned for seed in late August, Data on the first cutting of
red clover are given In table 2
The first bcbwhite quail nest was not found until Kay 27,
but hatching dates given in table 2 Indicate that part of the quail
population, despite a cool, rainy spring, started nesting early in
May. From data presented in table 2, it is evident that a mmber of
quail nests escaped destruction by hatching previous to co^iipietion
of the first cutting of alfalfa and of red clover.
Eelatlve numbers of nests in rod clover as compared with
those In other kinds of hay crops are given in table 1. Nest do- i
structlon In all but two cases was due directly to mov/ing. There are!
two records of incubating birds returning to their nGsts--doubtlessly '
because an Island of cover was left about the ncsts--to hatch the
Gggs , In another instance, a nest was deserted -despite the Island of^,
clover left about It . ' "
Tabic 2. --Data on nowlng of rod clover and alfalfa and
hatching of quail nests, Calhoun County, Illinois, 193o,
Per Cent of
June 25-July 2
Per Cent of Alfalfa L''owod
First Cutting Second Cuttin g
Alfalfa. --Forty-three farms produced 249 acres of alfalfa.
Forty-tv/o acres escaped early cutting, but by mid July all but 6
acres had been mowed at least once. Table 2 shov;s the first cutting
extending from May 16 to June 8; the second cutting extended from
June 23 to July 16. It should be noted that the peak of the first
cutting v;as reached 2 v/eelcs earlier in alfalfa than in red clover.
When the dates of alfalfa mowing arc compared with those
for the hatching of 20 quail nests, table 2, it' is apparent that
only a small percentage of nests hatched previous to completion of
the first mov/ing and that fev; renesting birds would escape nest
destruction by the second cutting.
The number of bobwhite nests found in alfalfa, as compared
to those in other types of cover, is given in table 1. Tv/enty-four
nests in alfalfa v^ere destroyed or deserted as a result of mov^ing.
However, there is one case of a quail returning to a cut-over nest
to hatch the eggs.
Sweet Clover. --In 1938, sv;cet clover was grown on 15 farms,
where it totaled 175 acres. Eighty-four acres of this were cut; the
remaining 91 acres were left for use as a soil conserver and soil
builder. Dates of mowing of this, crop ranged from May 27 to July 2,
with a mean of June 15. Of the tv\fo nests discovered in this cover,
both v/ere destroyed by mowing. A small percentage of quail nests
reached the hatching stage before the peak of cutting of sv>feet clover
in mid June .
Grain Field Nesting
ViTieat was grown on 1,368 acres of the farms studied in
Calhoun County in 1938. Infonnation was obtained on 1,072 of t.hei^e
acres cut by binders and combines. Despite cruising by the author
in one wheat field and the vigilance of many farmers, only tv/o quail
nests v/ere located in this cover type, for a density of one nest in
551 acres. In both instances the incubating birds returned to their
nests in the stubble. One nest hatched about June 30; the other v/as
still being incubated on July 18. The first nest v/as situated in a
wheat field in which red clover had been sowed; the clover furnished
added nesting cover. The second nest was partly under a shock of
From the low nesting density in v/heat fields, it appears
that small grains are little utilized for nesting purposes by bob-
vifhites . This fact is most unfortunate, inasmuch as small grains
offer safer nesting sites than do hay fields. In Calhoun County, in
1938, the first wheat fields were not cut until June 18, the peak
not being reached until June 27. The hatching data presented in
table 2 indicate that about half of the quail nests hatched previou.s
to the first activity of the reaper.
Miscellaneous Nesting Cover
In this category are placed those nesting cover types that
are small and restricted in habitat and that occur in waste corners
of fields, pastures and v/oodlots .
One nest was found on June 2 among the stubble of a field
that had been in corn the previous year. Situated in a small clump
of grass ( Hordeum sp.) and smartweeds ( Polygonum sp.), it was
destroyed by plowing.
Raspberry and dewberry patches harbored six nests. In each
instance, however, these nests were among the blue grass grov/ing with
the briers. Three of the nests were destroyed by predators, two
hatched, and the outcome of one was not determined.
Tv>fo nests were found in pastures. Both were located in a
mixture of blue grass and daisy f leabane . Although the roof of one
nest was rapioved in mowing, the female returned to incubate, and the
eggs hatched. The other nest was destroyed by crows.
Nest loss of quail was greatest in alfalfa, v/here only a
small percentage of nests escaped by hatching before the mower de-
stroyed them. Since, of all crops, alfalfa showed the highest nest
density and highest nest mortality, this crop form.ed an important
hazard to the quail of Calhoim County.
Red clover v/as not nearly so hazardous a nesting cover as
alfalfa.. Fewer birds v/ere attracted to red clover. Eecsuse c^ the
later Kov/lng of this crop, early nests escaped aestmction, and,
furthermore, approximately 30 per cent of this' crop v<as not mov/ed.
Oi-chards offurcd, in 1938, safci' nesting sites than did any
other type of ai'ea under cultivation in the southerTi part of Calhoun
County. Less than 50 per cent of the orchard acreage ",vas mowed. Of
the quail nests in oi-chards , 36 per cent hatched, despite the mowing,
in some instances, of the immediate surroundings. V/hile inconclusive,
because meager, data at hand indicate that raspberry and wild dew-
berry patches and other v/aste places v;ero safer nesting habitats than
orchards; I'oadsldes were less safe.
In an tffort to secure some idea of the abundance of upland
game during the v/inter of 1957-38, the author interviewed farmers as
to the n-umber of quail coveys and pheasants on their farms. Because
the county contains small farms, averaging 80 acres, and because most
farmers there are active hunters, the author believes that a rough
but fairly accurate measurement was obtained. On 10,619 rcros^ 1&7
quail coveys were reported, about one covey pei- 57 acres ^ Undo\ibt d-
ly som.e coveys wore reported more than once and some oov37s unre-
ported. Inasmuch as 10 birds per covey is a conservati'/e average in
that locality, the probable population in the winter cf 1 '37-38 wo s
about one qii.ail per 6 acres .
Despite heavy nesting losses in mowed areas, Calhonn County
had in the fall of 1938^ as in 'the autumji of 1937, a good stand cf
quail. This is especial]^y rem.arkable in view of the disastrous
v;inter of 1935-36 v/hich, according to apparently reliable reports -
reduced bobv/hites to r relatively lov; population in the locality.
Undoubtedly the rapid recovery was due in largo part to successful
nesting in apple orch'M-ds with uncut cover crops, red clover fields
many of .them unmolested until after hatching time, f enccrows , and
raspberry ^nd dewberry patches.
According to Mr. Robert Meyer, a lifelong resident and
hunter in Calhoun County, the first ring-necked pheasants, a dozen
birds, v.'ere released there about 1913. Liberations of pheasants by
the State Department of Conservation between 1923 and 1937 cmcuntcd
to 688 birds; the largest number released in any one year was 153 in
There was in 1938 a density of approximately one pheasant
per 40 acres. This figure is based on a reported 251 birds on 10,025
acres covering 55 farms. The number is surprisingly high in view of
the fact that in Calhoun County the pheasant is reaching the southern
extremity of its range and that much of the land there is not devoted
to grain crops .
Nest Dens Ity
In 1958, 16 pheasant nests v/ere I'ecorded on 2,077 acres of
orchard and hay crops in Calhoun County. On 7E0 acres of mowed red
clover tliere v;ere five nests, a density of one nest per 150 acres.
Five pheasant nests v/ere recorded on 243 acres of cut alfalfa for a
density of one nest per 43 acres . Sighty-four acres of sv.-eet clover
contained tviro nests, one nest per 4.2 acres. On 1,000 acres of xnO'Wed
ground cover in orchards there v/ere four pheasant nests, a density
of one nest per 250 acres.
r.lng-neclced pheasants reached a nest density in alfalfa
relatively high for Calhoun County. 3v/eet clover contained a larger
nT-imher of nests per acre, hut the acraage involved is considered too
small to be reoresentative .
Two- of the foLir pheasant nests in orchards hatched; one of
the five nests in red clover hatched; not one of the five nests in
alfalfa v;as successful; and both nests found in sweet clover .fD.clds
were destroyed. All known pheasant ziesting losses i7ei;'e the direct
result of rowing. One nest v;as successful in red c'.over; it hatch :.d
before the field was moi/red. Two nesting hons and one adult cock
pheasant were killed in the mowing, of 84 acres of sv/eet clover.
Like the bobwhlto, pheasants attained a higher nesting s^.x-
cess in orchards than in any other area under culti'.'ation. A„ff-lia
proved to be an important hazard to the nesting s\;c :.03s of the
pheasant through its attractiveness to nesting birds .and tne ens-jing
heavy mortality of nosts due to mowing.
MANAGEMENT REG OMI'EIOAT IONS
Although this study deals largely with conditions in
Calhoun County, the writer believes that some of tho principles set
forth in this paper are applicable to regions elsewhere, partici.;larly
where apples predominate among the farm crops .
The quail population In Calhoun County and many southern
counties is high, but a few simple m;anagemcnt practices, that are re-
lated to nesting and that can be correlated v;ith sound farm.ing
practices, might makc.it oven higher. The same practices may reason-
ably be expected to benefit the pheasant population.
Apple orchards offer the greatesb possibilities for In-
creasing the nesting success of bobwhltes and pheasants in Calhoun
County. It is comjnonly recognized that mowing in many orchards takes
place when there is a lull in other farm activities. If, without In-
convcnierco, cutting of the ground cover v/erc delayed until after
July 4, the majority of the quail nests in orchards v/ould escape
destruction from mowing. Such a delay seems feasible, especially in
those orchards containing varieties of apples not picked until late
Aup-ust or Se-Dt ember.
Leaving uncut areas along margins and in corners of
orchards v/ould prevent destruction of many quail nests. It would be
especially beneficial if the same areas in orchards were left uncut
year after year, since early-nesting quail are attracted by the
previous year's vegetation.
A number of Calhoun County farmers reported that they
avoided damage to quail nests by raising the sickle bar as high as
practicable before they started mowing. Many of the nests, placed
as quail nests usually are in cup-shaped depressions, were not
touched by the m.ower with the sickle thus raised. In almost every
case in which the nest v/as not touched, the bird returned. Some
farmers prevented destruction of nests by raising the sickle bar by
means of the hand lever when quail flushed in front of the mov/er.
Although there is a considerable loss of quail nests along
roadsides, these areas are attractive to nesting birds and should be
considered in any plan to increase the quail population. Many miles
of country roadside v/ere m.owed in 1938 to im.prove the appearance and
to control weed plants. However, the vegetation of many roadsides
consists of grasses and other herbaceous vegetation which are not
v/eeds and which do not detract from the appearance. Farmers and
township road comm.issioners may find it feasible to leave stretches
of roadside unmolested, or at least to postpone mowing until after
July 4, a date past the peak of the quail nesting season in Calhoun
and neighboring counties.