Plants That Attract Quail: Encouraging Quail In The Garden

Plants That Attract Quail: Encouraging Quail In The Garden

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Few birds are as adorable and enchanting as the quail.Keeping backyard quail affords a unique opportunity to watch their antics andanalyze their life. Attracting quail to garden areas gives them a habitat whileproviding you with endless smiles.

Quail are a popular game bird but also important to birdwatchers. Unfortunately, their population has declined drastically in the lastfew decades. There is something the average homeowner can do to help though.Providing habitat and food for the little birds ensures them a safe place tomake their homes and help build up their numbers. Landscaping with plants thatattract quail will give them cover and a food source.

Planting Gardens for Quail

The most important plants that attract quail in the gardenare those that provide cover. They have several predators and rarely fly. Theyare often at the mercy of cats, larger birds, coyotes, and other animals.

Consider life from their eyes. You’re small, have shortlegs, and can’t see over the top of most bushes. The best plants are those thatform a canopy while allowing a path to run amongst them. Ideal plants should beat least 8 inches (20 cm.) tall. Consider using grasses and grass-like plants:

  • Gama grass
  • Rescue grass
  • Little bluestem
  • Panic grass
  • Lovegrass
  • Wild millet
  • Smartweed
  • Partridge pea
  • Pokeweed

When planting gardens for quail, consider that many grassvarieties will die back, and the birds will be left with no nesting sites orcover. That is where adding woody and leafy plants come in handy. Plants like blackberry,dogwood,and wild plum provide important cover areas for the birds. Install such plantsat the edge of the landscape where it is quiet and undisturbed.

A wide variety of plants will prove to be the best atattracting quail to the garden. Additional plants to consider include:

  • Loblolly pine
  • Black locust
  • Greenbrier
  • Rose
  • Sumac
  • Mesquite
  • Ash
  • Spurge
  • Eastern milkpea
  • White avens
  • Sweetclover
  • Yellow puccoon
  • Prairie mimosa
  • Prickly poppy
  • Beeweed
  • Amaranth

Quail babies hatch and are almost immediately out of thenest searching for food. They will eat the same items as the parents, seeds andsmall insects, but will need even thicker cover with unobstructed areas of openground to find seed and have a dust bath.

Crops afford all the requirements to raise babies in a safespace. Many, like soybeans,develop a natural canopy with spaces of soil between. A fieldof wildflowers mixed with native grasses would also make good broodingground.

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Planting to support California quail in yards


A California quail spreads its feathers while perched on a fence post on a sunny day at Point Reyes National Seashore in Point Reyes, Calif. on Thursday, April 1, 2010. Paul Chinn/The Chronicle

Q:The area in front of our Orinda house is a south-facing hillside, currently planted in juniper. But the juniper is dying (from old age, we think) and we are trying to figure out what to replant it with.

Our concerns are that we want to: 1. Continue to provide shelter for the huge quail family that had a double clutch this year (18 and 7) 2. avoid providing a comfy home for rats 3. use drought- and fire-resistant plants 4. keep the expense low and 5. plant native species, if possible.

A: California quail are much loved for their distinctive appearance and lilting three-note call. While they are plentiful in the state, they are declining in suburban and urban areas, so your desire to preserve the ones that come to your yard is understandable and wise.

Chances are that your juniper area is only a small part of the quail family's habitat, since they live in groups and require at least an acre per bird. And, because quail don't fly much, and thus can't easily sail from one isolated patch of habitat to another, they need a continuous extent of land that offers suitable food and cover.

In fact, habitat loss is one of the main reasons that the quail, once common in San Francisco, is now nearly absent here.

Because they need such a large area, temporary loss of your junipers shouldn't be the end of your quail covey. They are surely using nearby habitat as well, and will just move into it and come back when you are finished. However, it would be best not to disturb your front garden between March and August, when the birds are nesting and the young are maturing.

Besides lack of continuous habitat, the other main threat to suburban and urban quail is cats. Natural quail predators include Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks, great horned owls, snakes, ground squirrels, coyotes, bobcats, skunks, and even blue jays. But in suburban and urban areas, cats are the main threat, especially at dawn and dusk, when the birds are feeding.

As to avoiding rats, you have to balance the need of quail for cover with the desire to expose rats to predators. Rat prevention experts advise an open area at least every 2 feet to provide predators such as hawks and owls access to rats.

Quail probably are using taller shrubs and trees nearby for night roosting and a corridor of useful cover and foliage that extends into neighboring yards and perhaps wild areas, so they can probably live with the openings you provide for rat predators. Most importantly, don't use bird seed in an attempt to attract quail. They will come to it, but so will rats.