2011 Update

The most difficult problem continues to be obtaining birds that will call back.  Re-examination of a deeply held assumption on calling back led to a new set of problems.   Previously I, as well as many others, felt that a major factor in birds not calling back might be that through generations of inbreeding that breeders might have unintentionally produced the unintended consequence of eliminating the callback (aka separation call) attribute in pen-raised bob-white quail.   There might be an alternative or perhaps a supplemental notion on that.

Back in the late eighties some articles reported a phenomenon that may or may not contribute to our problem.   Investigated was the influence of adult birds teaching young birds the separation call.  My interpretation and extrapolation of the findings was that the influence of the presence of adult birds as coaches was more influential in young birds learning the separation or covey call than was genetical factors.   

It is reported that quail have more than 20 calls, and they have the ability to distinguish between members of their own covey and the same call by non-members of their covey. 

The most significant idea relevant  to this topic was that perhaps lack of callback trait might be due to lack of experience with being “tutored” by adult birds as opposed to being an inherited trait.   If this is true then we have been barking up the wrong tree for a long time!   However, it must be emphasized that the problem has only developed over the past few years.  Before that time it was not a serious problem in spite of the penraised birds not having been “tutored.”  What is the explanation for this contradiction?    One possibility might be that it is only recently that the excessive inbreeding has finally “caught up” with the breeders to produce this. This might be a weak explanation but it is the only one this writer can produce.   

We need some field-base research on this call-back business.   Two positive contributions that the readers of this might consider are:

 1. Send any observations or experiences you have had which you are willing to share with others in the next update to this series;

 2. If you have multiple johnny house or the like that you would be willing to risk one or more by participating in an experiment for the upcoming season (electronic callback device needed) e-mail to the the email below.


All the above from a different perspective leads to consideration of an older issue explored in previous in the last update regarding the age of birds.   For your convenience the following was included in that update:

Conventional wisdom on this is to start using birds when they are 12 to 14 weeks of age or slightly older.  In my opinion there is a divergence in thought here which should be governed by what your intended use will be, i.e. will they be used for pre-season early release with goal of establishing wild (albeit not native) covies or will they be used in situations that involving housing them in johnny houses, large Davis type pens, or the like where you release birds shortly before you use them.   Factors considered by most, regardless of intent, include best age for survival of birds and best age to influence the birds against just wandering away permanently. In general most feel that the older birds are more likely to survive.   Quail Restoration Technologies takes the opposite position on this and says that 12 weeks is too old. David Runyon on an Alabama tract (Uphapee Plantation) has experimented releasing quail starting at 12 weeks old and has moved downward to 6 weeks; his experience supports  releasing younger birds.

A major factor emphasized in the conventionally recommended 12 week age is ability of the birds to escape predators.   One finds no references to the observation that it is not until that age that the birds have fully "learned" the separation or call-back call.  The younger they are (i.e younger than 12 wks) the less developed is the call.   The 4 week old birds call with the single note call which probably serves to keep the chicks together as a covey and close to the parent.  It may not serve well to recall a covey separated by a hundred yards or so.  At 4 wks the volume may not be loud enough to help them keep together if they are widely separated.

To conclude this update the following picture below is included.   The balloon (found on Amazon.com) seems to help repel hawks from quail pens and johnny houses during the day.  It is a nice compliment to nocturnal device for four legged predators and owls mentioned and shown in the 2008 update.  Be careful of the placement or it may repel the quail too.   It probably shouldn't be hung near the sides of the johnny house which have the entrance cones.

It is called a scare-eye.

Frank Thompson