Do Early Released Quail Run Off Wild Quail

Recently, a client of mine said to me,“Jim, I have two questions for you. First, are my early release coveys running off the native birds? And second, can released quail reproduce?” These are probably the two most frequent questions I have had come my way during the past thirteen years of working on pre-season release quail projects. Whats really going on? Who are the real Survivors in the quail game?

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Note: For the context of this article I am defining “released quail” as follows: Quality flight conditioned birds, grown in isolation and released four to six weeks prior to hunting season. Their release is accompanied by some method of feeding to assist the birds as they transition from the flight pen to the wild, not just dumped and left to chance. Now lets get back to the client. After a few years of releasing quail, controlling predators, and improving the habitat, this man saw baby quail during the summer on his property.

September came and the client conducted his early release of birds as usual. Several weeks later he began to hunt with the anticipation of finding both the released birds and the birds he had seen a few months earlier. He found several coveys containing about twenty birds each. “Oh, these are the birds I released this year”, he surmised. But where are the other birds? Are they gone? Were they voted off when the new contestants arrived or are they still in the game?

Now lets discover what really happened by examining a case study conducted by Clay Sisson and the Albany Quail Project based out of Auburn University.

In this study a landowner in East Alabama had several thousand acres of quail land. Part of it was dedicated strictly to wild bird management, while the remaining area was used to conduct a pre-season release project. In early fall as the owner planted scattered plots of wheat, he spotted numerous quail broods on the property. After the pre-season release was conducted and hunting season was in full swing, the landowner concluded that he, like the client, was not finding any of the wild coveys.

Clay and the other members of the AU team were notified and got to work. During the fall of 2002 the researchers trapped four coveys of native quail located in the release bird area. Tracking radios were then placed on each one so their movements could be monitored both before and after the introduction of released quail. Also, all the early release birds used that year were leg banded for identification purposes.

The investigation ended in the spring of 2004 with interesting results. Birds in three of the four radioed coveys mixed with birds in early release coveys. The fourth radioed covey remained unmixed. None of the four radio marked coveys were run off the property. In fact, they never left their original home ranges.

These results were similar to an earlier Auburn study conducted during 1990-92 by Ted DeVos and Dr. Dan Speake. (Wildlife Society Bulletin 1995, 23(2):267-273). The remote video and banded bird studies I conducted in Georgia from 1996-98 yielded these same types of findings.

Now, back to our question. Why did the client and the landowner think their native grown quail had been run off? To answer this you have to look at what happens to a released covey during the “boot camp period”. This is a term I first used back in 1993 to define what happens to a released covey of quail during the first four to six weeks as they settle into the new area and establish a home range. For example, lets say we released a covey of birds at a prepared site in mid-September. By the end of October we could have lost 30 to 40 percent of the covey, but the birds that remain are graduates of the “boot camp” and survive at a rate almost identical to their wild counterparts. Now what happens is that our native coveys begin to mix with the survivors thus, restoring our released bird covey back closer to its original size. This shell game creates the illusion of a “wild bird disappearing act”.

Now lets address our second question, Can released quail raise young in the wild?

What does the Alabama study imply about reproduction from early released quail that survive the hunting season? The weights of “native” quail trapped and radioed for the Alabama Quail Project study ranged from 170 to over 200 grams, with many falling somewhere in between these weights. This would suggest that the native population was already a cross between pure wild birds that are smaller(about 170 grams) and the released birds, which are larger (about 230 grams). In fact 20% of the birds in the bag had no bands. This means that these birds were raised on the study area.

Other studies have shown similar results. Ted DeVos study concluded, “Pen-reared quail which survived the winter appeared to contribute to the reproductive season normally.” My research also captured several remote video events at Base Camps where banded quail from the previous season were bringing in broods for water and feed. In South Carolina, Brad Mueller conducted a study where he radio tagged 120 pre-season released quail that had survived the hunting season and 135 wild quail that had survived the hunting season. These birds were monitored throughout the breeding season. Brads report stated, “Overall, there was no difference in the average clutch size, percent hatch or percent survival of chicks to flight stage.”

All these investigations make no bones about it. Pre-season released quail that survive the hunting season are capable of producing offspring in the wild. Your next question is probably, “How much reproduction will I get on my land?” That is like asking, “How long is a piece of string?.” The amount of production is what us “bio-types” call site specific. It all goes back to the fundamentals of how much land you have, how good your brood and nesting habitat is, and how many predators you have.

In reality, most of the early release projects I work on are 200 to 300 acre tracts of land. On well managed projects we expect to raise 4 to 6 coveys of quail but continue to release 12 to 15 coveys each fall. In these type of situations, I know that if I can raise a few coveys of “carryover” birds, then my odds of having a successful early release project are almost guaranteed.

I read a quote in a book by Rick Warren recently that put all this in a neat package. He said, “methods are many, principals are few methods change, but the principals never do.” So no matter how small your early release project may be, do whatever you can to manage it like you would for wild quail. This needs to be your foundation principal.

If you have had much experience with conducting an early release of quail, then what I am saying is not news. If you have a philosophical bias against released birds, you probably wont believe any of the studies anyway, but Ive learned not to worry about such things. Come hunting season I just take my pointer Tatt out to my 150-acre project and have a blast hunting the “REAL SURVIVORS”.

19 thoughts on “Do Early Released Quail Run Off Wild Quail

  1. archie

    I got a question for you.I was wandering how much predator problems do you have around your base camp feeders and water stations?It looks to me like, by having one location to feed and water that the predators would learn the feeding habits and hang around the base camps.Whats your oppinion?

  2. Jim Evans Post author

    Archie,
    On occassion, you might have a bird hit at the feeder but it is not a common occurrance if the system is set up as we recommend.
    The Base Camp should be set up in the edge of good field cover ( such as a briar patch). This will conceal the Base Camp and give the birds protective cover as they come and go from the feeder.
    The Base Camp feed/water sytem is designed so that the movement of feeding quail is hidden from the view of any “high perching” predators.

  3. Jim Evans Post author

    Lucas,
    I think you are referring to whether or not predators zero in on the quail using feeders.
    The answer can be either yes or no depending on the following factors:
    1. If the feeder is set up in a relatively unprotected area of poor cover, you will naturally have a higher chance of something making run on the birds while they are using the feeder. This is why I always stress that the Covey Coop be set up in areas of good cover.
    2. The Covey Coop or Base Camp is designed to hide much of the quail’s activity while they are feeding. This also helps avoid their detection.
    3. Since the decline of the fur market in the late 70’s, predator populations have soared. Predator control is now as important to a successful quail project as habitat management.
    4. If the feeder is set up in good cover and the predator population kept at a reasonable level, supplemental feeding will be a long term benefit to your quail population.

  4. John Andre

    Mr Evans,
    I recently joined a 3500 acre hunting lease in South Texas near George West. It has primarily been a deer lease but 8 of the 10 members are avid bird hunters and we are interested in applying managment practices that will improve our bird count. Your practices would appear to apply universally to most any area of the country. My question is do you have any specific practices that might apply to South Texas brush country?
    Notes: We put out two barrell feeders designed to keep hogs out. So far one is getting good use and the other not, so i will apply some of your tecqnics to determine why. Second about 1500 of the 3500 acres are nice open pasture type lands with various seed weed and this year we had 3 hatches thanks to perfect rain. So we have good bird numbers this year and want to keep them around and assist in maxing their numbers for next year.

  5. Jim Evans Post author

    Over the years we have had several people use the Covey Base Camp in Texas. In fact I believe we have customers in virtually every geographic region of the state.
    I years of good production, some people use the system to concentrate quail in the hunting grounds during fall hunting season.
    In years of poor production, they use the Base Camps to conduct a preseason release of quail.
    Richard Long is our sales representative in Texas. He has worked with Texas land owners for over 10 years. He can be contacted at “MAS CODORNIZ, INC. (281)-528-0771.
    Hope this helps.
    Jim Evans

  6. Joe

    Mr. Evans,
    How would this system work on a mile strech of river bottom property located in the plains of colorado. Approx 140 acres. I would be pretty clear on avoiding a set up in the high water area. Any suggestions on how many base camps (johny houses) (plan on a yearly release of x coveys) and the number of feeders.

    Joe

  7. Jim Evans

    Joe,
    Sorry it took so long for me to reply.
    I ran your question by Ron Haaland. Ron has used our equipment on many projects and is more experienced with your particular geographic region than myself.
    The following is his response to your question.
    “Jim:
    Sorry for the delay. The following thoughts may help you respond to the fellow from Colorado.

    If he has 140 acrs that includes a mile of bottom land it must be about 1155 feet wide. Things that will influence his success include altitude (where on the plains of CO?), rainfall, snow potential, etc. If this is typical bottom land it will contain grasses, forbes and cover thickets of brush. The predator load can be high in these areas –hawks, skunks, coons, coyotes,etc.

    Following an old rule of thumb our business; if the habitat is in good shape it will support a covey of 20 birds for every 20 acres. So in this fellow’s case he could use 6 to 7 units. I usually space them 200 to 300 yards apart on long narrow properties and try to locate them down the middle so the birds don’t end up off the property. The Total Recalls can be placed on wood posts in or near some of the cover thickets.

    If this area does get snow, the Covey Base Camp does an excellent job of providing food a shelter under heavy snow or blizzard conditions. I have had quail (both released and wild) come through a 16 inch snow fall in KY because they had the Covey Base Camp to rely on. There was snow piled up on one side of the unit and heavy quail tracking into the unit on the down wind side.

    Without knowing the condition of the habitat it is difficult to know how to help. If people are serious about getting started I ask them to send a few digital photos of their situation and then follow up.

    Hope this helps.”

  8. Chad

    Hey,
    I’m interested in trying to get a population going in Minnesota. Have you heard of any success up here? Are there any modifications necessary to help make it work?

  9. Jim Evans Post author

    Chad,
    The northern most natural range of the bobwhite quail extends into southeastern
    Minnesota. On these fringe areas quail populations usually are dratically reduced during hard winters and slowly recover during a series of milder winters. This makes quail management in the “fringe areas” tough.
    If your main goal is to have birds during the hunting season you might be able to establish a population of free ranging released birds. For this to work, you would have to have areas that were already established in habitat suitable for quail (like a mix of annual weeds and native grasses).
    If your goal is to have birds for working your bird dog and the amount of acreage in quail habitat is limited, then you might consider the use of a couple of Johnny Houses your best option.

  10. Larry Paulsen

    I own 600 acres with a mile along the Trinity River in Freestone County Texas and want to establish a quail population. Half of the land is a designated wetlands area so heavy cover and no cattle.There are no quail there now. Is it possible and if so, what should I do?

  11. Jim Evans Post author

    Larry,
    Quail are an upland game bird and nesting success would be limited in a wetland setting.
    However, you may be able to create hunting opportunities on the adjoining mid-slopes and higher ground.
    If you have a couple hundred acres of higher ground, you could develop the proper habitat setting of annual weeds and grasses needed to support quail. Low areas usually support a lot of predators so once you have the habitat you should conduct predator control in order to “level the playing field”.
    By conducting a good preseason release project each year you could enjoy the fruits of you labor and obtain some carry over through the summer. When I hear the calling of “bobwhite” during the summer, it tells me that my habitat work and predator control is doing the job.
    I have produced two DVD’s that may be of help to you.
    One is called “Managing Quail Fields” – it shows you all of the habitat types needed for quail and tells you how to create them economically.
    The second DVD is call “Putting Quail Back in Your Quail Hunting”- it explains the basic principles needed to conduct a successful preseason release project.
    Hope this helps.
    Jim Evans

  12. Steve Illingworth

    I am trying to establish a quail population on a friend’s 400 acre ranch in Woody, CA. There are some Valley Quail scattered in the surrounding hills but they are not very plentiful. Do the reproduction studies and principles stated on your site apply to all quail species. Are early release Valley quail likely to mix and reproduce like other quail species?

  13. Jim Evans Post author

    Steve,
    Because California quail have the same covey up behavior during the fall and winter, I would
    expect that early release quail would mix with the wild coveys similar to what we see the the northern bobwhites, but I have no personal experience with conducting preseason releases
    with the California quail.

  14. John Ronnow

    I am working with a friend to interduce quail in eastern OK. There is hundreds of acres that are managed for cattle, but edges with briars and cover are available. Some spring burning has been done. When quail are released is some type of holding pen or area required to keep the quail on the property>
    Thanks, John

  15. Jim Evans Post author

    John,
    Some people start the quail out by holding them in a “Johnny House or Recall pen” for a couple of weeks and then transition them from the pen into the surrounding area by providing food (either by feeders or spreading) in near by cover areas. If the quail habitat is good, I usually release my quail in early fall. I like to use birds of about 12 weeks of age or older. I use the release technique that we show in our DVD called “Putting Quail Back in Your Quail Hunting”. The method shown in the DVD demonstrates how I release quail into an area of good habitat and get them to establish a home range on the site. The DVD also goes into what can allow you to have success and what can cause the project to fail. It is hard to get into more detail without knowing the size of the area and your project goals. I think the mentioned DVD would help you figure out what your best options would be. If you have any questions after viewing the video, give me a call.
    Thanks

    d

  16. Kevin Powers

    What is the distance between the Johnny house and the feeding / watering station?

    Also, when working a birddog and entering the field, don’t they get wise and run right to the johnny house knowing that the birds are in that area around the house after being released? How do you get the birds to scatter into other areas, and if they are transported to other areas of the property, to they eventually find their way back to the Johnny house?

  17. Jim Evans

    Kevin,
    When using a Johnny House in conjunction with a covey coop, I usually place the feed and water station about 40 or fifty yards out in front of the house. I spread a light feed trail of milo from the house to the covey coop and lock the birds out of the house by closing the entrance ramp.
    If you are just wanting to have birds on hand to train dogs, I would just stick with releasing birds from the house for training and letting them return to the house.
    There are several ways to approach what you are doing but I would have to know how many acres you are working with and what your main goal is. If your main purpose is just dog training then your focus is different than someone wanting to have free ranging coveys to hunt. To discuss your questions in further detail please call the office and I will try to get back to you on the phone.
    Thanks
    Jim Evans

  18. ernie grisdale

    Using the covey base camp in my 18 x 40 ft outdoor flight pen, I was able to keep alive 10 quail in the pen all winter (even at temperatures below zero F. I am releasing them now several at a time.

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