We get a lot of questions from hunters about why we do not stock quail. Here are some insights from Department quail biologist Beth Emmerich:
At first glance, stocking seems to be an easy way to restore quail populations. Like many quick fixes, releasing pen-raised quail to restore a population does not bring lasting results, is expensive, may negatively affect wild populations and may reduce the focus on habitat restoration efforts. Not to mention it is a violation of the Wildlife Code of Missouri to liberate any wildlife to the wild (see 3 CSR 10-4.110).
Actually, the Department of Conservation experimented with stocking pen-raised quail in the 1940s and again in the late 1950s. The conclusion was stocking quail was ineffective at increasing populations. Biologists determined time and money would have been better spent on habitat management.
By the early 1990s, every state wildlife agency had stopped the practice of stocking quail because the practice was ineffective in restoring quail populations and did not address the real problem, which is a lack of suitable habitat. New systems for releasing captive-reared quail have been promoted and the results are the same--quail stocking is expensive and ineffective. The use of call back boxes, or even live call back birds can be used to lure the released birds back to the relative safety of the brooding systems that are usually set up to provide food and shelter. I have not heard of any scientific research that has shown any successes in using these methods to restore quail populations. Following is a few summaries from recent research on various release methods to increase quail populations.
During May 2005 to January 2006, a study was conducted on an approximate 1,000-acre portion of a private shooting preserve in Monroe County Georgia, Piedmont Physiographic Province, to assess the return to hunter bag and flight behavior of pen-reared bobwhites that were liberated prior to the hunting season using two release techniques. A total of 1,641 5-week-old wing tagged pen-reared bobwhites were released using the Surrogate Propagation™ system during June, August and September; and 1,000 12- to 16-week-old leg-banded bobwhites were “dump released” during November. Birds were liberated into intensively managed pine savanna habitat that included supplemental feeding and predator control. Fifteen horseback or wagon quail hunts totaling 70 hours were conducted during November to January with 21 different coveys located and 99 covey flushes. Ninety-three birds were harvested of which 81 percent were leg banded, 14 percent wing banded, 5 percent unmarked and presumed to be wild reared. Relative to the total number of birds released, hunter bag returns were 0.80 percent for the wing-tagged chicks and 7.5 percent for the leg-banded adults. Based on subjective ratings, the summer released wing-tagged chicks exhibited flight behavior exceeding that of fall-released leg-banded adults and similar to that of wild reared birds. Hunter bag return rates were low for both systems. The cost per released bird returned to hunter bag was $74.53 and $42 for the Surrogate Propagation™ system and dump-release, respectively.
In 2009, Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch began a study to determine post-release survival of Surrogated bobwhites at two sites in Texas (Palo Pinto County and Clay County). We radio-tagged and leg banded approximately 80 5-week-old chicks at the Palo Pinto site and approximately 40 chicks at the Clay County site. Most of the tagged birds were dead or lost by the second week post release. In 2010, we tagged 27 birds at a third site in Palo Pinto County, and found similar results, that being extremely high mortality of tagged birds within two weeks post-release. Visual observations of bobwhites without transmitters suggest that similar mortality was occurring. Based on our results to date, landowners utilizing Surrogators™ to enhance the existing bobwhite population or re-establishing populations in unoccupied ranges should expect poor survival and low success in achieving their goals.
Nebraska (2008). The Surrogator™ captive propagation system is purported to increase populations of northern bobwhite and ring-necked pheasants. The units provide food, water, heat and shelter for chicks until they are released. Releasing pheasant chicks at four to five weeks and limiting contact with humans while they are in the Surrogator™ unit is purported to allow the chicks to retain the survival instincts of wild birds. We evaluated the efficacy of the Surrogator™ system by evaluating the survival and return-to-bag of pheasant chicks raised in the units placed on two shooting preserves and two public wildlife areas. Survival from release until the start of the pheasant hunting season was low (12 percent) and annual survival was less than 1 percent. Of the 170 pheasant chicks placed in the unit at the beginning of the study, six (3.5 percent) were returned to bag. Cost/pheasant $36.21 ($3.50 without Surrogator™ Cost/pheasant returned to bag=$331.98 ($32.14 without Surrogator™). (NE Game & Parks Special Report).
Kentucky (2007-2009). Study conducted by the Kentucky Department of Wildlife. In 2007, 294 birds were released using the Surrogate Propagation™ system at a research farm. The farm was hunted hard during the 2008-2009 season, with no birds flushed or harvested. In 2009, KDW released 277 birds at the same site. Covey call counts were conducted on the property during October,with one covey detected. In mid-November, five hunters using five dogs hunted two hours with no birds flushed or harvested. At a second release site where no hunting was allowed, no birds were detected during October covey call counts, flush counts, or in call back pens.
These studies are just a few of the examples of trying to use released birds to increase the bobwhite populations on an area. Reintroduction of wild turkeys is often heralded as a modern wildlife success story. Adult turkeys have a much higher survival rate that quail, and turkeys were released into suitable, but unoccupied habitat. Unfortunately for quail, most suitable habitat in Missouri is occupied. If the habitat is incapable of supporting wild bobwhite, the chance of released birds surviving is minimal. Releasing pen-raised birds onto private property, for the purposes of dog training, is allowed by permit.