There is a lot of talk in recent years about the Bobwhite Quail Decline – also being called idiopathic decline. Something is definitely harming the wild populations of bobwhite quail. As I see it, we have a couple choices – do nothing or do something. I’m not willing to “do nothing” because I truly enjoy stomping through the woods with friends behind a good dog. In the “do something” category we also have some choices. One choice is to participate actively in quail organizations which raise and donate funds to other organizations that research and rehabilitate wild quail populations. I do that as well. Another option is to raise and release your own bobwhite quail to release in the wild. I am actively raising bobwhite quail with a quail surrogator. It’s not hard and it’s a lot of fun. Yeah, I like the little birds – a lot! I am raising quail for hunting but the primary goal is to reestablish a native wild population of bobwhite quail. What follows is my first post that covers, end to end, a wild quail release cycle using a quail surrogator.
Test Run Your Quail Surrogator
Each year, before I begin my cycles of raising wild bobwhite quail with a Surrogator, I like to complete a test run of the surrogator to make sure everything works properly. I usually setup the surrogator in that barn yard and run the water, feed and heat for a week to make sure there are no leaks and that everything works properly. One of the keys to a successful bobwhite quail cycle with a surrogator is that you do not disturb them except once weekly. This prevents the bobwhite quail from becoming accustomed to people and preservers their “wildness”.
Loading Quail Chicks
One of the biggest benefits of raising wild bobwhite quail with a quail surrogator is involving the entire family. We do our quail raising near San Antonio, Texas. This not only provides a great learning opportunity but also a great family event with some work and lots of laughter. My daughters and nephews get a chance to learn about quail, why they are important, why we enjoy them and what it takes to successfully raise wild quail. They also get the opportunity to get outside, away from the video games and TV and spend a day in the woods.
The youngest may have the shortest attention span but the definitely seem to enjoy it the most. The starting point of a quail surrogator quail cycles is loading day old or week old chicks. These can be purchase from quail breeders in your area or through the mail – although I’ve never taken that approach.
These are five day old quail chicks freshly loaded into the quail surrogator. It is very important to provide them with adequate heat as they can’t effectively regulate their own body temperature yet. Without heat, they will clump together to conserve body heat and the ones on the bottom will suffocate. Even in the hot Texas Summers quail raising near San Antonio, Texas, we need to provide additional heat for a couple of weeks.
Weeks One, Two and Three in the Quail Surrogator
The end of week one of raising bobwhite quail in the quail surrogator is relatively uneventful. I start with five to seven day old birds instead of one day old birds. The slightly older chicks have a lower mortality and benefit from an extra week of age when they are released. The only activity needed at the end of the second week is to clean out any dead chicks, confirm adequate flow of the feed, confirm adequate water volume and flow and to turn the heat down a couple notches. This is also the time to open the barrier between the brooding end of the bobwhite quail surrogator and the loafing end. This allows the chicks a little more freedom of movement and room to grow. I will occasionally have a few dead chicks this week but not many.
The end of week two in the wild quail surrogator is also relatively uneventful – again – check the feed & water, clean out any dead chicks and turn down the heater again. My highest mortality occurs during this week and I’m not sure why. Typically, I’ll lose 5 to 10 chicks this week.
The end of week three in the bobwhite quail surrogator is also pretty easy. Check the feed, water and turn down the heat. I seldom lose any chicks during this week. I also use this visit to scout out my next quail surrogator location. This time has also proven to be a very good time to notify friends and family of the upcoming release in two weeks. It’s fun and you’re going to need a little help cleaning and moving the wild quail surrogator!
Wild Quail Feeders
If you start with week old chicks, it now becomes very important to watch the feed levels. As you can see from the picture, in my quail surrogator, the chicks almost always eat from the same end. Thus, it becomes very important to spread the feed out each week so that they don’t run out of feed, even when there is feed in the quail feeder. I also make it a point to clean out the lower feeder tray each time to make sure that feed is flowing smoothly. I’ve also had cycles where the chicks were very hungry and the feed levels were very low at this point in the cycle. When I started with day old quail chicks, a 50# bag of chick feed was sufficient for a five week cycles. When starting with week old chicks, I almost always need to add more feed during this week or the next.
One of my experiments is developing an effective and inexpensive wild quail feeder. I’ve prototyped a model based on some suggestions from other quail raisers and breeders. I’ve had very little luck attracting the wild quail to the prototype wild quail feeder so one approach is to “train” them to the wild quail feeder. That experiment is still in progress.
The Last Weeks in the Bobwhite Quail Surrogator
Week four of raising bobwhite quail in the quail surrogator is a time of rapid growth. The bobwhite quail are almost ready to release in the wild. I almost always need to add additional feed and water during this week. I seldom have any dead quail chicks at this time. I also schedule time during this visit to clear a new location for the next cycle of the wild quail surrogator. I’ve typically scouted a couple new locations the previous week, selected what I think is the best and then bring along some trimmers, saw and rake so that the new location is ready immediately after the release.
The end of week five in the quail surrogator is when I release the quail. If I’ve started with week old quail chicks, they tend to fly very well and exit quickly. If I’d started with younger birds, some of them will need a little “help” exiting the bobwhite quail surrogator. It always amazes me that they know how to fly since the low height of the quail surrogator prevents them from flying while inside. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze me. This is also a great time to share your hard work and investment with family and friends. This event is something that is seldom seen and generally appreciated by everyone that get’s a chance to see it. It’s also very handy to have some “help” to move, clean and reset the wild quail surrogator. It’s not hard work but it is bulky and you’ll need some help getting it loaded and unloaded from your vehicle.
Raising Quail for Hunting
I started out with my Surrogator project to raise quail for hunting. I wanted to release wild quail and then hunt them with my dog. I vastly underestimated what it would take to accomplish this task and one and one half years later I find myself only part way through the process. That said, we are starting to see wild pairs and “bumblebees” or baby quail out in the wild. So, some of the things we’re doing are working and that pleases me.
Summary of Bobwhite Quail Decline and What YOU Can Do
I have noticed a bobwhite quail decline when I’ve hunted wild quail. There are several things we can do – raise money, fund research and raise our own to supplement the wild population. I am raising quail for hunting. Using a quail surrogator to raise wild quail isn’t easy but it is simple and the quail surrogator works like a charm. The instructions are simple and easy to follow and I almost always release over 90% of the chicks in put into the quail surrogator. The next important step to insuring a native, reproducing wild quail population on your place is to begin a quail habitat management program – and that’s a little more challenging!