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Backyard Bobwhite: Part 4

Release the Birds

It’s a bitter sweet day. The quail project we conceived in the spring (Part 1) is winding down as the leaves begin descending and first frosts are painting the pasture. We’ve gotten attached to these birds, invested in their condition, entertained by their antics. We’re just a few zip ties away from that being gone.

Our Bobwhite are 17 weeks old, fully grown for the most part and well fed. A good comparison point; quail released on shooting preserves or used for field trials are often 12-15 weeks old. Our birds look big, bigger than most wild Bobs I’ve shot. Their caretaker (my dad) has seen to it that they have not been lacking.

Only two of the original 35 chicks were lost to a farm cat that found a weakness in our pen very early on which we quickly rectified. The hope is that they’ve imprinted on the area by now, recognize the cover and benefits of the food plot and have been exposed to enough attempted yet unsuccessful predation that they still know danger.

The birds still act cagey as we prepare to loose them, diving to the remaining cover in the pen which has been well trampled after three months of captivity. The female birds appear more wild than the males who number 10-11. It’s tough to get a truly accurate breakdown because they scatter so quickly.

Our ideas of micro-conservation are still evolving. Trial by fire. Our plan has received best wishes and scoffing alike. Biologist friends have doomed our ambitions as folly. They are the experts, we’re the underdogs. So be it. The experts have made little to no progress in Bobwhite restoration efforts in over four decades. Could it possibly be time to start thinking differently?

Regardless the outcome, whether our birds run the gauntlet of winter and predation to spring, let’s go over the facts of what has  already been accomplished:

• We returned an area of yard, useless fescue, to wildlife habitat and lessened the amount of mowing and upkeep required.

• We tried out a seed mix to see how it would perform with minimal equipment, hand seeding and no supplemental fertilizer. The cover and food resulting from this effort have been fairly impressive, but the hand seeding was a bit thick and caused most of the sunflower to get choked out. We may look at additional mixes and are interested to see what happens to the plot in winter and spring.

• We tested an inexpensive pen of our own design to see if it could allow birds to feed from the ground, keep birds safe and predators at bay with mixed results. We’ll likely make adjustments to our design, but it was a good starting point.

• We used multiple food sources, learning what the birds liked most and weaning them without mishap from game bird meal to seeds and worms which they will need to find in order to survive on their own. Dried meal worms seem to be the biggest winner, followed by a seed mix that contained thistle. We also learned these little birds eat a lot, way more than we expected.

• We’ve gotten friends and young people (grandchildren, nieces, nephews) who have never seen a quail before interested in the species and invested in their survival. They would likely otherwise never see a Bobwhite in Ohio in their lifetime.

• Most importantly, we started a debate about upland conservation. And more of these conversations are needed.

We refuse to be told our efforts are in vain because we have facts that tell us otherwise. Our small group of birds may not survive, but our resolve certainly will. We will continue to explore micro-conservation because it seems the only true, long-term path forward.

Good luck little Bobwhite. Hope to see you soon.