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Why We Don't Stock Quail

Jan 12, 2011

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.

Georgia Study

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.

Texas Study

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 Pheasant Study

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 Study

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.


You guys are doing awesome, thanks for stepping up and doing something with your land that benefits not only quail, but a lot of other native wildlife species.

I purchased my farm (180 acres)in June '07. That fall I had one covey for sure and possibly two. I worked with my MDC PL consultant and developed a plan to increase quail numbers, by improving the habitat. In the fall of 2008 I had five coveys, in 2009 seven coveys and this year 2010 I had seven to nine coveys between my farm and my neighbors place. I consistently found 4 coveys to hunt this fall and will expand my habitat efforts again in 2011. Habitat is the key.

Increasing quail population is habitat dependent. Where I live, it was a thrill just to hear a quail five years ago. I own just a few acres, but allowed the fence row to widen, let the blackberry thickets grow, stopped mowing nest areas, stacked brush piles, and provided food plots. Now I see quail almost daily and had adults and chicks in my yard last summer.

Ya, I honestly couldn't believe that introduce wildlife being illegal, they did it with deer, are doing it with elk, and even prarie chickens i think, oh and with quail the difference is...... I dont know much about it or if it would work but that seems like a poor excuse

Other wildlife is not the problem of reduced population the problem is hunters that go around hunting illegaly and killing birds for no reason. If people would report illegal hunting that would some what help on bring up surten wildlife population. For all you illegal hunters stop.

I see some people are bashing the MDC for what they see as less than ideal quail numbers and habitat issues. This past season I have had rather successful hunts on public ground and I know of quite a few CA's that have been doing a superb job of creating quail habitat. I see a big problem though with overhunting on some areas, it would be nice if quail hunters would be diligent in leaving some "seed" for next year instead of shooting into coveys that are already at or below 8 birds. This blog is a pleasure to read and I'm glad I stumbled upon it, I like hearing everyones opinions and Mr White giving prompt replies! Kudos

Anonymous, try Stockton Lake, Talbot and Bois D Arc Conservation Areas especially early in the season. I had a great hunt at Stockton in November, 3 coveys in 3 hours. These areas are hit pretty hard and late season hunts can be disappointing.

I agree that the way to restore quail to Missouri is through habitat restoration. But where is this said restoration? Obviously the MDC has had little to no success in making quail hunting available to those of us who sign their checks. Name one place with 40 miles of Springfield that a hunter can go and have a real chance of bagging birds. Unfortunately the MDC has become a business,focusing more of increasing revenue than serving the people of this state. Just like the half-hearted elk restoration program. What hunters want to know is when we can actually participate in an elk hunt and it will be 20+ years. But what do I know? After all I believe there are still native mountain lions on the state.......

Bill, our 4-person Commission is vested with the responsibility for 'control and management' of fish and wildlife resources of the state. They have the authority over, and approve the Wildlife Code. With that authority the Commission has approved the current elk restocking project, an exception to the current Code.

Jeff, A conversation with the area manager may provide background that will help you understand why a certain management practice is or isn’t used.  For example, mowing is sometimes used to prepare a site for herbicide application.  It may be that the mowed areas next to brushy cover are firelines that were created a year in advance of a planned prescribed burn.  Managers also receive requests from area users, hunters among them, to provide walking trails; it’s difficult to meet everyone’s expectations.Bill

Your second paragraph indicates that liberating any wildlife to the wild violates the Wildlife Code of Missouri. Well, OK, but where does that leave us? Obviously, then, the current elk restoration project would also be illegal. If some legislation other than 3 CSR 10-4.110 permits elk restoration, then exactly why would MDC be prohibited from stocking quail? While I have not read the Wildlife Code in detail in this regard, both elk and quail would seem, to most reasonable people, to qualify as "wildlife." This is not to say that stocking quail would be a good thing to do or provide appropriate use of available funding, but it's hard to see why one is a violation of the Wildlife Code and the other is not. What am I missing here?

Heard this for years. You are sold on the evidence that it is more cost effective to put money into habitat. Ok, so why is it not done on most MDC lands? I am really sick of hearing it. There is a handful of areas in the entire state that are "managed" for quail. Some of these quail empahsis areas actually are. Talbot is looking much better over a lot of its acreage. I know it is more expensive for you to pay an employee to go sit on a tractor and run the brush hog next to standing brush than it would be for you to pay one to walk down that same row of standing brush with a chainsaw to create some edge feathering. You are just creating a kill zone for the hawks and predators to wipe out small game. Quit mowing right next to brushy areas!!! Show me some of this edge feathering I keep hearing about!

Adam, bobcats do not normally take quail according to a review of bobcat studies in the states where quail are also present. Their primary prey are rabbits and mice.

Bobcats, Hawks, Coyotes, Foxes, etc are not the main cause for a lack of Quail here in MO., it is by far and away a lack of habitat that kills the birds. As you can tell adult or young quail will not survive without the right habitat whether they are wild or pen raised. I have proof on my farm that if you build the habitat that helps the quail population to survive then you will have quail, if not the birds have too high of a mortality rate and they will die.

Very interesting article. It is obvious that the Missouri DOC has thoroughly researched the option of releasing pen-raised birds, and found it to be ineffective, a waste of taxpayer dollars. As with most declining populations, it's also obvious that the ultimate culprit is loss of habitat. Kudos to the DOC for focusing on the root of the problem, and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars!

the bob cats are not helping much but you all thought we had to have them. and all they are doing is eating the quail ,rabbits and turkey. thanks for the bobcats

What about stocking pheasant? South Dakota has great success with that. I would much rather stay home and hunt like I used to in the late 80s and early 90s but that's just not an option as the birds just aren't here anymore. So we pay and travel out of state to hunt pheasant.

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