Fall 2006 Update  

    Not that I needed it, but this year I decided to venture out and try something  new.... the establishment of wild coveys with the idea of abandoning my large quail pen previously described. 
This was to be a one time shot, and I planned on returning to my previously described approach again next year.   My reason for deviating from the tried and proven approach was to provide opportunities
for my dogs to experience true wild birds.   This would level the playing field when they competed with the dogs of the landed gentry and their friends who, because of their large holdings, have a plethora
of wild birds.   The results were total failure.   Surrogate Propagation developed by Quail Restoration Technologies was used for guidelines. For complete description of their operation see the link in the links folder of this website.   I fault neither the theory nor the technique used in Surrogate Propagation, and I still recommend it if fits one's context.   At the end of my remarks I will share what I believe was the problem in my experiment this year.  The problem is a very serious flaw having major implications for all who use pen-raised birds.

Description of What I Did and The Results

    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 with Surrogate 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 predation.

    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 pen-raised birds.
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

Most folks have birds being able to fly well as their primary concern. Not as many are concerned about scent given off. My program described in original article and the above addresses both of these. For the past two years a new issue has emerged for me. This issue is important to me, and apparently is not addressed by most game bird breeders. I want birds that call back well and that survive and reproduce in the wild. My supplier raises birds from day old chicks. He gets them from someone who hatches huge numbers. That supplier gets his eggs from still another source. He changed sources for his two years ago, and the results have had a negative impact on my operation. I feel this impact is of genetic origin …perhaps 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.

The 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 numerous 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 others 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 cones 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 years has been (1) never heard a single "bob-white, " (2) fewer eggs laid, (3) hens would not set.

The 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. Unfortunately 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 eggs 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 published.  The following snip is enlightening in terms of possible problems with my failure.

    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 course, careful 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 types
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.

Frank Thompson