Every once in a while I comment on this issue as it continues to surface from time to time. Game farm birds cannot produce a wild population. They are useful for release and hunt situations but not for starting a viable population of reproducing birds. This applies to any form of release including the Surrogator or other soft release method.
"Once again, pen-raised quail are not the answer!!
Professor, Wildlife Management
University of Tennessee
I continue to get requests for information regarding pen-raised quail. Many people want to see more quail and reestablish populations of bobwhites. However, releasing pen-raised birds is not the answer!
Years ago (1930’s – 1950’s), state wildlife agencies throughout the country hatched and pen-raised millions of bobwhites. Upon release, they were to bolster and reestablish quail populations. All of these efforts failed. Millions of dollars were spent. Wildlife managers learned a lot in the process. Since, much has been learned in the private sector about raising pen-raised bobwhites. However, efforts to keep them “wild,” feeding programs, soft-release techniques, etc. have not led to a single reestablished population.
Pen-raised quail lack behavioral characteristics of wild birds. This should not be surprising as pen-raised birds are domesticated stock, which have been selected over time to be docile enough to survive in pens and raised in a most unnatural way. Many of these domesticated birds will not nest, and some that do will not incubate their clutch. It has also been noted for a pen-raised female to incubate her clutch and, upon hatching, simply walk off and leave the brood. Without the hen, chicks die quickly, either from exposure, starvation, or predation. In short, pen-raised quail have never been found to be able to sustain a population.
In addition to the behavioral traits, mortality among pen-raised bobwhites is extraordinary. This is understandable as the birds have not learned to avoid or escape predators by the proper rearing of a wild adult hen or cock bird. They are relying on innate instincts, which are obviously lacking after generations of domestication.
Although behavioral issues can be problematic, some pen-raised bobwhites have been found to reproduce, nest, and raise a brood if they are released where some wild quail still persist. However, domesticated birds should never be released where wild birds still persist! Pen-raised birds readily associate with wild birds. In fact, they interbreed. This is not good; research has shown the genetic integrity of a wild population may be sacrificed after only 2 years of releasing pen-raised birds just prior to the nesting season.
Another problem associated with pen-raised bobwhites is transmission of diseases into the local wild population (if one exists), which can lead to increased mortality for native birds. Domestic quail are raised under the same conditions as other poultry, such as chickens and turkeys, and are subject to many domestic poultry diseases.
Regardless of the problems associated with pen-raised bobwhites, these birds would not persist to re-establish a population even if reproduction and mortality were not a problem. The real problem is they do not have an adequate place to live; that is, the habitat is not suitable. Have you ever wondered why the native birds are no longer there, or why the population is not increasing?!? If native birds are present, why would releasing domesticated birds cause the population to increase if the current wild population cannot increase on its own?!? The environmental pressures that are limiting population growth have not been removed. If the area does not currently support bobwhites, there is a reason.
Many factors have contributed to declining quail populations: 1) habitat destruction (quail can’t live in shopping centers, parking lots, and subdivisions, so there is less area available), 2) changing land-use practices (large “clean” farms with no suitable cover; conversion of row-crop farming to pastures and hayfields of tall fescue and bermudagrass), and, yes, 3) increased numbers of predators (nobody traps anymore). We have also learned that habitat improvement on relatively small properties (less than 1,000 acres) surrounded by poor bobwhite habitat may not help bobwhite populations. A landscape effort is needed.
That doesn’t mean you should not try to improve habitat for bobwhites and other wildlife that use early successional habitat, but it does accentuate the importance of working with your neighbors and trying to impact as large of an area as possible.
Over the past few years, several research projects have studied and identified what we need to do to bring quail back to appreciable numbers. Every study points to habitat—improving habitat conditions to once again favor the year-round needs of bobwhites is the key to restoring bobwhite populations. Not pen-raised birds.
For information on improving habitat for bobwhites and how to receive cost-share assistance, contact your county Extension office, regional TWRA office, or local NRCS office. You should also visit the website of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) at http://www.bringbackbobwhites.org.
NBCI is a landscape-wide approach to restoring wild bobwhites by 25 state game and fish agencies, private conservation organizations and research institutions."