Building Bobwhite Quail Habitat and Locating the Surrogator

Bobwhite quail can be scarce in your location for a number of reasons. But, the primary reason is typically a lack of good or adequate habitat.

In fact, I spend much more time and money building and manipulating the overall habitat than I ever do on the bobwhite quail and surrogator. And, while driving tractor and pulling machinery is fun…….loading, tending and releasing quail from the surrogator is More Fun!

If you’re in Texas, then the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch is your one-stop destination for all quail habitat information. Other states tend to rely on research and information from the state wildlife organization and their land-grant university.

Nevertheless, it’s worth saying clearly. If you don’t have the habitat or can’t improve the habitat you have, you won’t be successful repopulating wild bobwhite quail on your property.

My strategy is to reduce the invasive ground cover, increase the forbes and build habitat for nesting, brooding and feeding. I do this with a medium sized 55 HP tractor, a shredder, an antique drag disc and a rebuilt John Deere Model B seed drill. I run this equipment during the Summer to clear brush from new areas, in the Fall to plant winter seed crop (usually wheat) and then in the Spring to plant Spring seed crop (usually brown millet and some Hegari or milo).

The best location for your Surrogator is out in the field where you have the best habitat and under a shade tree. You’ll also want to position it along the prevailing winds so that the heating unit pilot light is protected from drafts.

 

Bobwhite Quail Feeders

I’m not a fan of feeders for bobwhite quail. I’ve tried several designs and it never appears to provide a benefit that is great than the cost. There’s also a valid argument about providing a banquet of quail to predators as they gather near a feeder that isn’t entirely wrong. I didn’t see predators eat my quail at the feeder but I sure saw a lot of predators give it a visit! Here’s what I’ve learned.

The folks at Wildlife Management Technologies sell this unit. It’s one of the more comprehensive units I’ve seen and includes an integrated nipple waterer that can connect to a water tank. The quail access small holes inside each leg to get to the feed.

I used this unit for about a year but never saw any quail visit it. I think that the very small access to feed that prevents other critters from raiding the feeder also prevents most quail from ever finding the feed.

I built this feeder myself based on what I learned from the WMT unit and a design that my quail breeder uses successfully. It addresses the supposed flaw in the WMT unit by generously exposing the feed rather than hiding it. I also incorporated the nipple waterer but quickly realized that was a folly. My main goal with this feeder was to provide newly released chicks with some extra support for their first few days in the wild. It worked but only for a couple days after each release. Maintaining it longer than that was a waste of time and feed. I also built a small prototype feeder that I placed in the Surrogator while the chicks were young so they’d be familiar with the feeder design. I’m proud to say that I think this did have an impact on the usage of the feeder. Nevertheless, in the long run, this approach wasn’t worth the effort to build & maintain it.

As it turns out, just protecting the feeder from other critters is the hardest part. Sometimes, the whole damn family!

This is the best I came up with and even it’s not impervious to critters and more hassle than it was worth.

It has a solar powered 12V battery connected to a large capacitor which is then connected to an insulated ring of wire around the outside to deliver an electric shock. This is common on deer feeders and works well.

It was devilishly fun to build but worth the effort over time to keep it maintained and full of feed.

I’m sure quail feeders work somewhere but I’m not convinced that they’re an important part of my quail restoration and management efforts. Since we live in Central, TX and don’t graze the ranch, we have an abundance of seeds and forage for the quail.

Releasing Bobwhite Quail from the Surrogator

The bobwhite quail chicks have been in the Surrogator for 6 weeks. They’ve grown from tiny chicks to young adults. The Surrogator has done all it can for this batch of chicks and it’s time to let them out!

If you started with 125 quail chicks and you’ve been moderately successful, you should release around 110 birds. Any less than that and you have some work to do tuning your Surrogator and/or process.

The first step is to gather all your helpers – this is going to be exciting!

Then, open the lid on the loafing end, scare/chase the birds from the brooding end. I find it helpful to also lower the middle gate to prevent confused birds from going backwards instead of out.

They’ll start with a trickle – leaving home is perilous and quail are wary birds. Be patient, the rest will figure it out very soon.

You can even grab a couple for your helpers to hold and examine.

Remember to hold them gently – they are tough but fragile, too.

Big Payoff Right There!

They won’t fly very well yet. And, they can’t land very well either! So, quite a few of them will congregate in the nearby bushes as they covey up for protection and begin figuring out how to survive in their brand new world!

Bobwhite quail are primarily ground birds so it is normal to see them on the ground after they are released. If you listen closely, you can hear them still peeping and a few beginning to call back.

I think the release is really exciting so I place a few cameras on stands around the Surrogator to catch photos from different angles.

And sometimes they will all want out at the same time! Explosion of Quail!

I also like to bring my bird dog, Jill. For a trained dog, this is a tremendous training opportunity for steadiness. How’s that for steady?

It’s also a bird dog bonanza hunting them up and pointing them afterward!

If you place a quail feeder nearby, it is likely that some of the bobwhite quail will stay around the Surrogator for a few days.

Well, where did you think that 50# of feed and 15 gallons of water went? You’ll need to move your Surrogator now to avoid any disease or pests. Truthfully, it’s not very smelly and I move mine just enough to get a clear base and let Mother Nature take care of the rest.