This year’s first batch of quail chicks have almost 4 weeks in the surrogator so I figured it was time to get caught up on some of the “extra” things we’ve been doing in our raising and feeding wild quail. We implemented a form of predator control on some of the quail range feeders, tried a callback device to attract the released bobwhite quail, used game cameras to monitor and measure our progress feeding wild quail, repaired the surrogator and prototyped a wild quail feeder to find the best one for feeding wild quail chicks. It’s been a busy Spring leading up to loading our first batch of quail chicks.
Coon Zappers to Protect Quail Range Feeders
We have several typical deer feeders that spin cast a mixture of corn, protein, scratch bird seed and quail chicks starter feed each day. We intend these to also serve as quail range feeders. These feeders work very well for our deer population and also attract quite a few doves. They have yet to prove useful for feeding wild quail. They operate with a battery powered spinner throwing gravity fed feed. It is easy for the deer to lick the spinner or the coons to turn the spinner and empty 200 pounds of feed in a week. We decided to fight back – feeding wild quail is pretty important around here – and implemented what we call the “coon zapper” – a sort of miniature electric fence around the spin caster. It is powered by a 12V battery charged via solar charger with the charge held in a “Varmint Buster” capacitor and a custom wire cage around the spinner.
The custom wire cage and stand-offs around the spinner on the quail range feeders took the most experimentation and prototyping. My Dad finally hand crafted some plastic standoffs and used heavy copper wire to form the “electric fence” around the spinner. This version has withstood the test of time quite well so far and I think will be sufficient for feeding wild quail.
The battery that powers the Coon Zapper is an ordinary 12 volt rechargeable battery. This is more than sufficient to load the capacitor and knock the snot out of you if you touch it. I have video of Dad touching it to test it and it even makes him jump back a step or two.
The entire Coon Zapper / Varmint Buster rig fits easily on the control panel housing of the quail range feeders and has a dedicated solar charger to keep the battery charged. My Dad built this unit while experimenting over a period of six months and we’re quite proud of it. The net result is that NO animals even get close to the spin caster anymore. At best, we have game camera pictures of a deer sniffing it from about a foot and we haven’t seen a single coon on the wild quail feeders since it was installed. We’re guessing that the animals can smell the ozone or electrical charge and avoid it. That said, the coons are still hungry and have just started to congregate more heavily around our other feeders – yet another problem to solve…but feeding wild quail has become a lot more feasible now.
Callback Device for Feeding Wild Quail
I started using a quail callback device in February. The goal was to call the bobwhite quail back to the wild quail feeders loaded with quail starter feed. The callback device is one of the best and works very reliably. I have it configured to sound covey calls at dawn and dusk. It makes approximately 6 calls with 2 minutes intervals at both dawn and dusk. If you’re out there when it goes off, the wild quail go nuts calling back to it. Unfortunately, I never saw any quail actually come to the feeder loaded with quail chicks starter feed located near the callback device.
The quail callback device is very configurable and can be used in a variety of situations. I’ve talked with people who use them for calling back pen raised field trial bobwhite quail and also recovering/trapping pen raised hunting bobwhite quail. In all cases, they report good success. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the same measure of success feeding wild quail but I suspect that I just haven’t figured out the proper method yet.
Game Cameras to Monitor Wild Quail Feeders
I use several game cameras to monitor what is happening at the surrogators, waterers and quail range feeders. I use a Bushnell model that is very simple and reliable. Mine is an older model but the newer ones seem to be slight modifications and improvements on their origianl, good design. These game cameras are powered by 8 AA batteries and will last as long as six months. They are small units and I mount them to Moultrie tripods rather than strapping them to a tree. I’ve never had a problem with these cameras except when I forget to turn them on.
The game camers work on SD memory cards. Rather than replacing the SD memory cards each time and bringing them home to “harvest” for pictures, I use an Apple iPad and a Camera Connection Kit to read the SD memory card right in the field. The iPad reads the pictures into it’s internal memory and then offers to delete them from the SD memory card. I then synchronize the iPad with my home computer to archive and work with the pictures. I also use my iPad to write a journal to track what we’re doing with raising quail, monitoring the wild quail feeders and managing the quail habitat.
Visitors While Feeding Wild Quail
The game camera captures some very interesting visitors at the quail range feeders. As I mentioned, since the coons and deer no longer have an all-you-can-eat buffet at the deer feeders/wild quail feeders, it appears that they have teamed up to raid my wild quail feeders of the delicious quail starter feed.
Several weeks ago, I captured my first image of a bobcat on the ranch. I’ve seen him three more times since then – each time looking somewhat like the little old ladies waiting for the Luby’s buffet to open on a Sunday morning. While the coons do give me some cause for concern, they haven’t been shown to be aggressive quail predators other than opportunistically raiding nests. Bobcats on the other hand, are very aggressive bobwhite quail predators and can easily clean you out.
I’m not sure why the buzzards decided to visit the quail range feeder – maybe the particular smell of the quail starter feed. This is the only time in two years that I’ve seen them at a wild quail feeder. They didn’t seem to bother the feeder other than to crap all over the top of it. These are the only birds I’ve seen at the wild quail feeders – not much success so far feeding wild quail – not giving up though.
Wild Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Repairs
Over the winter, I took the time to do some repairs to the surrogator. I’d had it out in the weather for six months raising four batches of wild quail chicks and it performed very well. There were a few places where screws had broken off and those were replaced very easily with a small washer and a coated rain gutter screw. In this case, most of the screws that broke were screws that held the cage bottom mesh.
There was also very little paint degradation and rust on the surrogator. I took care to power wash the surrogator between each cycle and the original paint job held up very well. There were a few places on the bottom of the cage where it was directly against the ground and possible rubbed on some rocks where bare metal came through the paint. I used some tough Rustoleum paint and just covered the bare areas.
The Best Feeder for Feeding Wild Quail Chicks and Quail Starter Feed?
A tip of the hat to a friend that answered a forum post on ThatQuailPlace.com in response to my question from last month regarding the failure of the bobwhite quail to come to my quail feeders. He opined that “training” them to an enclosed quail feeder might make a difference. I also talked with a couple of other people regarding their success feeding wild quail and the most interesting story I heard was about a quail feeder made from a 6″ PVC pipe capped on each end and attached to a T-Post driven into the ground. It’s been horribly hot and dry hear in Texas and our usual crop of forbs has not produced any seeds for the bobwhite quail this year. I also think that the very dry weather is going to have a big impact on the brooding success since there aren’t many bugs for the quail chick to eat. So, I had an idea. I’m going to combine a couple of those ideas to see if I can create an enclosed quail feeder that will be the best feeder for quail chicks. The quail chicks are already trained to the nipple waterer in the surrogator. The bobwhite quail are also trained to the gravity feeding trough with quail starter feed in the surrogator so I might be able to train them to another type of feeder as well. I have an extra nipple waterer that was attached to the bottom of the quail feeder I bought from Wildlife Management Technologies for feeding wild quail. I can combine the extra nipple waterer with a T Post and PVC feeder and possibly attract them to quail chicks starter feed and feed the quail that way. There is a long list of challenges to resolve in this approach but the first on is the actual design of the feeder distribution and training of the quail. So, I made a small prototype feeder to put into the surrogator during the last week before their release. I’m using 4″ PVC from Home Depot because it is cheaper and more easily available than the 6″ PVC. I purchased an end cap and drilled four 7/32″ holes at a 45 degree angle. I’d been warned not to drill at a 90 degree angle as that would allow water to get back into the feed and clog it up. I’m calling this one the enclosed quail feeder.
I mounted the end cap to a 12″ x 12″ piece of plywood in the hopes that the feed would trickle out and be easily findable by the quail chicks. I also underestimated the length of the lag bolt that was needed – luckily, I had a slightly longer one in my workshop stash. I’m using a piece of plywood on the enclosed quail feeder because the bottom of the surrogator is 3/8″ mesh and any quail starter feed that came out of the enclosed quail feeder would just fall through and be of no use to attract and train the bobwhite quail chicks. The plywood will serve to hold the dropped grain and make it easily findable by the quail chicks.
This is the final version of the enclosed quail feeder mounted to a base. It is approximately 12″ tall with four 7/32″ holes to dribble quail starter feed. I’m taking a hand saw with me when I install it because I want the height of the enclosed quail feeder to be exactly the inside height of the surrogator – thus eliminating the need for a top cap and the purchase of an additional $7 end cap. I think I’m onto something and may have the best feeder for quail chicks.
Surrogator Location Selection for Raising Quail
One week prior to loading the bobwhite quail chicks, I took the surrogator out and set it up. I had four cycles of quail last year and, based on call counts and the few birds we’ve seen, I think Location #1 was probably a bust, Bobwhite Wild Quail Location #2 and Bobwhite Quail Release Location #3 were very successful and Quail Raising Location #4 was moderately successful. The quail habitat near Location #1 didn’t turn out to be as good for wild quail as I originally estimated – there was more non-native KR Bluestem grass than I thought there was but it didn’t really bloom and become visible until the late Summer rains. KR Bluestem is not a good grass for feeding wild quail. Locations #2 and #3 are in moderately wooded areas where it is tough for the non native KR Bluestem to grow and the native forbs and grasses have a better chance to thrive. Location #4 was intended to provide a “house covey” of bobwhite quail near the ranch house and we have started to see and hear wild quail from that release within the past few weeks. This year, I’m going to reuse Bobwhite Wild Quail Location #2 and Bobwhite Quail Release Location #3 to build on last year’s successes and then put two more releases very near those location to attempt to concentrate this year’s releases of bobwhite quail and get a better handle on how the wild quail populations handle the quail habitat and predators.
A reminder about setting up your surrogator – keep those zip ties handy – they are critical tools to keep the surrogator tight and predator resistant.
With the success we’ve had with the coon zapper on the quail range feeder, I’m planning on implementing a similar, smaller version around the wild quail feeders to feed wild quail and keep the varmints at bay. I’m also going to relocate the quail call back device near the feeder loaded with quail starter feed and begin running it during the last week of the surrogator cycle to see if the bobwhite quail chicks will associate the sound of the call back device to safety and food. I have two game cams and will continue using one game cam to monitor the active surrogator and one to monitor the quail feeder – this will allow me to monitor the wild quail that come to feed and the general predator count. I’m going to install the enclosed quail feeder to see if it performs as expected as the best feeder for quail chicks.
Next month’s update will summarize Release #1 from 2011 and the progress I’ve made with the quail feeders.