Quail research at Ames Plantation has been conducted over the past 70 years, beginning with Herbert Stoddard’s landmark work and later, in the 1960s, with Dr. Ralph Dimmick’s research. Since those times, quail research and associated projects most notably involving Cooper’s hawks, mammalian predation and small mammals have been conducted, especially during the past 10 years. The body of knowledge that arises from such long-term projects has direct impact on how quail are managed nation-wide.
During recent years, work has centered primarily on the understanding of what parameters impact over-wintering survival and nest success of quail and how these factors influence populations. The work was conducted in cooperation with Mississippi State University’s Department of Forestry and Wildlife. Graduate student, Eric Seckinger, spent 2 years, largely in residence at Ames, to gather the information needed to understand the ecology of the quail. The study was conducted beginning in 1998 and ended with successful completion of a Master’s Thesis in 2003.
During that time approximately 1000 acres of forestland was converted to grasslands to provide early successional habitats that would be available to quail and with those habitats, the conditions that allow populations to flourish. One of those conditions was the creation of habitats that were not suitable for the Cooper’s Hawk, a raptor that was demonstrated to be a significant agent in over-wintering survival.
According to Eric Seckinger’s study, grassland conversions did impact quail populations improving numbers and over-wintering survival.
After grassland conversions, quail populations were monitored daily. This required a large crew of technicians led by quail biologist, Rachel Whittington. The body of knowledge gained during that study is presently being analyzed.
Beginning in fall of 2002, pen-raised quail were released on the field trial grounds. This was the first release in 27 years. The National Field Trial responded very positively and the program was considered successful as it supported that event. Release provided a unique opportunity to study the fate of pen-raised birds when they were released in superior habitat and in the presence of a relatively large population of wild quail. The questions centered around survival and breeding behaviors: would pen raised quail survive in numbers to support the trial, would they survive to breed, would they breed successfully, would they breed with wild quail and would they pass significant genetic components into the resident wild population?
During 2002 and for the next 3 years, 3,200 pen-raised quail were released on the 5,477-acre field trial course. To maintain an equal treatment, 1,600 birds were released on the morning and also the evening courses. Birds were released in coveys of 20 birds that had had time to bond in boxes designed specifically to carry birds. Each covey was released in a food patches, consisting primarily of grain sorghum, but also Egyptian wheat.
The pen-raised birds were bought from Clear Creek Farms in northern Mississippi, owned and operated by Mr. Chuck Bolton. The quail came to Ames in excellent condition and this likely contributed mightily to the success of the program.
Prior to release birds were inoculated for avian pox, banded and about 200 received radio collars. At least, one radio-collared bird was placed with each covey. Birds were allowed to acclimate to collars and leg bands. Several feathers were pulled from 900 birds to provide genetic material located on the follicles.
The pen-raised quail were released in early-October. At each release site a source of water was placed and a mound of sorghum feed made available. The birds were not disturbed for a period of 2 weeks. Afterwards, some mild harassment of the quail was accomplished to help them learn escape tactics.
Telemetry was accomplished daily, both on wild and pen-raised populations. Some pen-raised quail maintained relatively pure coveys, some incorporated quickly into wild coveys. A few moved relatively long distances before setting up a territory.
Contrary to wild populations, a large portion of the over-wintering mortality was attributed to mammalian predators. Wild populations suffer primarily from hawks.
The mammalian studies noted in other portions of this web-page give insight to how mid-size mammals react to a varied landscape and provide insight to where the primary grounds for interaction between mammalian and quail populations.
The release work will continue. Ames Plantation has constructed first-rate quail raising facilities and these birds will be available for public purchase as well as to support Ames’ programs.
This information has been collected and is being analyzed. However, a thesis by Kristine Oswald presented information, including data from Ames that examined genetic diversity of quail along a portion of their native range. The thesis is entitled “ Examining tissue collection methods, paternity estimation, duration of sperm storage, and population differentiation in Northern Bobwhite.” The thesis is available through Mississippi State University’s Department of Forestry and Wildlife.
Further work at Ames Plantation revealed that released quail survived in numbers far exceeding original biologist’s estimates and contrary to much of the work that has been done with quail rang-wide. The first year approximately 45% of t he birds were available to the field trials and 185 entered the breeding season alive. Pen-raised birds not only nested, but also produced successful nests at a rate that reasonably equaled wild populations. The next year’s release, conducted during the fall of 2003, did not produce survival rates that were as high, and were much more closely aligned with conventual, original projections. However, some survived to the breeding season. The jury is still out regarding the 2004 release, however, some birds made it through the winter.
In each year of release the National Field Trial responded positively. For example, after the first year’s release there were very nearly more finds during the first day of the event than for the entire trial the previous year. Action was fast, furious and fun. The dogs ran under judgment with regards to finding quail, something that had been missing during the past several years.
Preliminary research suggest that the first year’s release produced an 80% chance that 25% of the next year’s progeny carried genetic components of the pen-raised birds. A current scientific paper aimed at the Wildlife Society Bulletin examines the proclivity of pen-raised bird to pass genetic material to the wild populations and speculates that introduction of pen-raised birds may shrink the genetic base of the ensuing populations. The paper is under review and the scientific work continues.