Quail Surrogator Maintenance

Quail are messy, stinky birds. Your Surrogator is going to need cleaning regularly. The instructions say to power wash it after every cycle. I used to do that but transporting and resetting it every cycle was a PITA. Now, I only clean the Surrogator once yearly after the season.

Your bobwhite quail are going to leave a big pile of poop under your Surrogator. They are also going to make a big mess of the inside of your surrogator.

Fortunately, the Surrogator XL fits nicely into the back of a pickup. A helper is very helpful.

I use a small, cheap power washer to clean mine and it works fine.

It will inevitably pit and rust so use caution with the power washer to avoid washing off too much paint.

I use a side angle grinder with a wire wheel to remove the rust and peeling paint.

I use Rustoleum Flat Black Heavy Duty paint to cover the bare spots after washing and buffing with the wire wheel to protect the bare metal.

I also check, tighten and replace any missing screws to prevent unauthorized entry by varmints and critters.

I’ve used my Surrogator for 8 years and can foresee using for another 20 years. It is very well built and if you take reasonable care of it, it should last for many years!

2018 Winter Maintenance
This year it was easier probably because I only run 2 cycles/summer rather than 3. I did the work while it was on the trailer and that made it that much easier. Powerwash, a little wire brushing and a lot of heavy duty paint to cover rust and bare metal. Ready for another Season!


2019 Season

A good game cam is really helpful. It allows you to see and act on things that will impact the quail. Unfortunately, most game cams don’t last more than a year or two so I got a replacement.  Cheap and functional are my requirements. It’s working nicely but this bird had some objections!

I always have some raccoons around the surrogator at night. If there are no more than 2, I don’t mess with them and they don’t bother the chicks. (The surrogator is very tightly built) But, if there are more than 2, I start some predator control until they’re back down to just 2. I’ve done this since I started and it seems to be a nice balance.

But, there’s not much I can do about this type of predator. I’m always impressed at their intelligence to find the chicks under a tree and then come in and land to investigate. This hawk visited many times.

I started with 100 10-day old quail chicks from a new supplier. I was very impressed with the “skittishness” of his adult birds when I used them in December for dog training. I kept these chicks for 6 weeks and released 95. They ate almost 75# of feed and consumed over 30 gallons of water during that time. 

I’m pretty sure that hawk is pleased with my work as well…..

Start of Cycle 2 with 125 14-day old chicks (they’re flying already) from the same supplier. The last batch performed as expected – they were extremely skittish and flighty when released. I hope these do as well.


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.