My goal was to
establish several wild covies utilizing chicks hatched and raised by
banties. A previous experience using Old English breed failed
because hen abandoned nest one day before hatching. After
consulting others on the net I decided the best bet for good setters
would be Silkies. That was a good decision. I
obtained four hens and a rooster (seller wouldn't sell me hens
only). Allowing for various failures in the process I
planned on two dozen eggs per hen. Only 10 were actually under
each hen. The remainder were in incubator with plans to
return them when eggs started to hatch under hens. One hen
was put in each of my two johnny houses for this, and the other two
were put in my large quail pen previously described and
illustrated. The day before hatching day a critter (unknown
to this day) got in one of the johnny houses, killed the hen and ate
all the eggs. The other three were successful. Hens and
chicks were kept in their quarters until five weeks of age, in line
approach, and then the chicks were release at those two
sites. None were seen again.
I had two backup plans. The first one
was to retry if my dogs failed to locate any after a few weeks.
Just in case my dogs missed them I wanted to know the group to which
the birds belonged if they were located in the future. To
facilitate this I used Tennessee Reds in the first backup plan.
The summer was rapidly passing and to save time I purchased 150 day old
chicks and raised them in the big quail pen. At five weeks about
75 remained. There were large losses in shipping and the first
three weeks. At five weeks the remaining ones were released, and
not seen again. One exception to that was one of my derbies
pointed a single Tennessee Red while roading a few weeks ago.
In neither of the above have I seen any evidence of
Finally I implemented my third backup which was the
approach I have used in the past and is described previously. I
abandoned my wild bird plan and am resorting to utilizing
This year I am having the same problem that I had for the past two
years. This is described in the fall 2005 addendum.... page and
the part relevant to these remarks is as follows
folks have birds being able to fly well as their
primary concern. Not as many are concerned about scent given off. My
described in original article and the above addresses both of these.
the past two years a new issue has emerged for me. This issue is
to me, and apparently is not addressed by most game bird breeders. I
birds that call back well and that survive and reproduce in the wild.
supplier raises birds from day old chicks. He gets them from someone
hatches huge numbers. That supplier gets his eggs from still another
He changed sources for his two years ago, and the results have had a
impact on my operation. I feel this impact is of genetic origin
too many generations out of the wild or from strains developed for size
and flight abilities. I treated this as a random fluctuation the first
time it happened, but now I am concerned about it.
first negative was that the birds didn't seem
to know how to (or didn't want to) produce the call back whistle. I had
to resort to using the electronic call back much more than I have used
it in the past. In the past, by late evening, I could always hear
covey calls all over my place; that hasn't occurred this or last year.
I have noted that they do seem to make it sometimes in the pen when
are released, but it is very soft and cannot be heard more than a very
short distance. Normally, with no wind, covey calls can be heard over a
quarter mile. The other issue has been that in the past by during April
I would start hearing "bob-white" from my pen. That would be my trigger
to stop working dogs on them and to release all permanently (re-entry
blocked). I would partition off three pairs and keep them. The results
of this described in original article. The new issue for the last two
has been (1) never heard a single "bob-white, " (2) fewer eggs laid,
hens would not set.
above suggests that for my type of operation
flight conditioned and weather seasoned birds are not sufficient. It is
important to know the about the other factors mentioned above.
I know of no way of assurances in those matters other than just to try
the birds and see what happens. Do be aware of changes in sources of
or chicks from your adult or young bird supplier.
What Went Wrong? .... My Interpretation
To begin with I do not fault the Surrogate system. I feel
that it is a sound system and would work with the right birds.
The "right birds" is the center stone of my interpretation of what went
wrong here. Last year in the Wildlife Harvest magazine an article
titled "Conditioning Gamebirds for Release/Survival" was
following snip is enlightening in terms of possible problems with my
Being raised under
wire does not automatically affect the genetics of a bird.
However, if enough successive generations are bred in captivity,
certain characteristics can become more predominant by default.
For instance, the birds who are most nervous and stressed in captivity
may not produce as many eggs. Some of the most flighty and
nervous birds may die from a stress related illness or as a results of
a injury sustained during a fearful response. Of
genetic selection will chose flighty, wild characteristics deliberately
and will compensate for accidental losses that might otherwise occur.
"Certain characteristics" seems to be things
desired by put and shoot operations such as good
fliers. Couldn't it also be be characteristics such as the
ability and/or propensity to produce and respond to the covey call...
i.e the call back characteristic. My assumption from the
numbers quoted from various quail breeders is that by far the most
significant market for them are the put and shoot operations with other
of shooting preserves also taking a large portion of birds raised by
breeders. The call back characteristic and breeding in the wild
characteristics could very well not be the characteristics that
breeders are seeking in their selection of brood stock, if they do any
selection at all. Another characteristic (assumed by
Surrogate system and other early release programs) is that trait not to
wander off far from the point of origin. In summary, it
is my belief that these traits such as calling back, not wandering off,
whistling bob-white in the spring, and successful nesting have been
inadvertently bred out of many pen-raised birds.
In October I talked with several dog
trainers who also reported severe problems with pen raised birds not
calling back and also entire earlyrelease coveys disappearing.
This is a serious problem which needs to be
addressed. I have no answers, but I believe a step in the right
direction might be to identify sources of birds which have not had
these desirable traits lost from their genetic pool.
In doing this care must be taken to be certain that we identify the
source of the eggs. Many don't produce their own
eggs; they may purchase thousands of eggs from elsewhere to
incubate, hatch and raise, or they may do the same with day old
chicks. If we are concerned about the genes the source of the
eggs must be ascertained.
Your comments on the above are solicited.