Stocking of pen-raised birds is not an efficient means to increase wild bird populations, as shown by numerous studies over the past 25 years. Developing and enhancing habitat, on the other hand, has proven to help increase quail numbers.
WHAT IS quail STOCKING?
By definition, "stocking" is the release of pen-raised quail into habitat where wild birds already are present. "Introductions" or "transplants" are different. These refer to the capture and release of wild birds into areas where birds are not generally present, using management that has been studied very thoroughly.
WHAT about stocking young quail?
On average, only 60 percent will survive the initial week of release. After one month, roughly 25 percent will remain. Winter survival has been documented as high as 10 percent but seldom exceeds 5 percent of the released birds.
with HIGH MOrTALITY RATES, SHOULDN'T WE CLOSE THE SEASON?
For the most part, hunting has little to do with poor survival. Predators take the real toll on pen-raised quail, accounting for more than 90 percent of all deaths. The reason being pen-raised birds never had a chance to learn predator avoidance behavior. Starvation can also be a problem. Some newly-released quail take up to three weeks to develop optimal foraging patterns essential to survival in the wild.
WHY NOT WAIT UNTIL SPRING TO RELEASE BREEDER HENS?
Mortality is still very high—roughly 40 to 70 percent of the hens will perish before attempting to nest. Also, high mortality rates continue even after nests are initiated or eggs successfully hatched, resulting in dismally low production. The average production of spring-released hens ranges from 5 to 40 chicks per 100 hens released. Thus, released hens are not productive enough to replace their own losses.
CAN'T SURVIVIAL RATES BE DIFFERENT FOR SOME AREAS?
There often will be a few that make it, but studies have shown they are unable to maintain a population. This is why local stocking programs continue year after year. Ultimately we must ask ourselves why there is a need to repeat stocking efforts on an annual basis if survival is as high as often claimed.
isn't minimal survival better than none at all?
Not necessarily. We're concerned about a self-sustaining population that we won't have to continually supplement with pen-raised birds. In order to remain at a constant level, wild quail populations must have a production rate of roughly four chicks (surviving to 10 weeks) per hen. With production rates of less than one chick per hen, a population would decline rapidly.
Is there harm in releasing birds?
Though not proven, there is cause for concern. Genetic dilution may be occurring. Even with minimal survival, the release of thousands of pen-raised birds over many years may be diminishing the "wildness" of the wild stock. Another concern is that, by releasing hundreds of birds in a given area, predators may start keying on quail. This may result in wild birds incurring higher predation. Finally, there is the potential of disease transmission from released birds to the wild flock.
What if I just want to put a few more birds in the bag?
Simple enough. Release the birds as close to the time you want to hunt as possible. To do otherwise is a waste of money. Pen-raised birds do provide shooting opportunities and a chance to keep your dog in shape. Just keep in mind that these birds are not going to produce a wild self-sustaining population in your area.
Is there hope for areas with LOw quail populations?
Yes. Start by understanding quail habitat needs. What kinds of areas do quail nest in? What are optimal covers in which they survive harsh winters? How can these areas be created and preserved? The answers can be learned from your local wildlife professionals. Consider becoming a member of Quail Forever. Informative and educational articles on these and other subjects are part of every Quail Forever Journal of Quail Conservation. If you are serious about improving local habitat conditions, consider joining or forming a local chapter.
With improved habitat, where will QUAIL come from?
Because of their high productivity, wild quail in the area can quickly populate newly-created habitats. In unpopulated areas of suitable habitat, transplanting wild birds or their offspring (F1 generation) appears to be the best solution. The first step should be an investigation of factors that have limited quail populations in the past—for example a lack of winter habitat or increased pesticide use.
can we realistically rebuild wild quail numbers?
Yes. During the past 50 years there has been a colossal amount of money spent on supplemental stocking programs by state and local governments, sportsmen's groups, and private individuals. If these dollars would have been invested in habitat restoration, hundreds of species of wildlife in addition to quail would have been benefited.
Here's the bottom line: When habitat conditions improve, wild quail populations will increase in response to that habitat.