The Dallas quail turns out to be…

Today marks the first day of quail season here in Texas. Seems right that I found out the story and fate of my female Bobwhite quail in the heart of Dallas.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my rare sighting of a Bobwhite quail about four blocks away from the Katy Trail in the hustle and bustle of Dallas, Texas. (You can read that article here and see the picture I snapped). My hopes were that the species was adapting to urban life and making a comeback in this once prairie area they used to call home. Thanks to the community, the mystery has been solved. Well, almost.

After my first quail article ran in the Katy Trail Weekly, I had a lead that others have seen quail on the trail. I was excited that maybe the female I saw wasn’t just passing through but maybe took up residence in the area, had a nest and was ready to hatch out lots of young! Yes, I may be an optimist.

As I spoke to Bill Williams, Trail Manager for the Katy Trail, my enthusiasm built as he described his sighting. It was just another day along the trail on the golf cart, when he spotted two birds underneath a bush that at first glance looked like pigeons. A quick stop on the golf cart for more exploration and Willieams announced, “I can’t believe it, we’ve got quail on the trail!”

With the knowledge of William’s sighting around the same time I saw mine, I could hardly wait to get a hold of Patty Shires, whom Bill said, “You need to talk to Patty, she’s got them in her backyard!”

Shires was out of town but luckily made some time to tell me about the quail that were feasting at her neighbors “house for breakfast and then coming to her house for happy hour and sleep.” Shires and her neighborhood were home to six very friendly quail for the past few weeks. They showed up out of nowhere and weren’t afraid of people or their pets.

The community has rallied around these quail. After a run in with the pool, the team rushed one quail to the vet and then to Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Hutchins, Texas in an attempt to save the quail. It was Kathy Rogers of Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, who confirmed the quail’s wings had been clipped. The primary (flight) feathers are clipped or trimmed in captivity to keep the birds from being fully flighted. This confirmed that the birds were raised in captivity and released in urban Dallas. But who and why?

There really is no way to find out who and what they were doing with the quail in captivity or why they dumped them in Dallas along the Katy Trail. Quail are raised in captivity for many reasons including to train hunting dogs, to release them for hunting purposes, for food and sometimes for sale. A license is required to possess game birds, including bobwhite quail, in captivity for the purpose of propagation or sale. A permit is required to trap, transport, or transplant bobwhite quail in Texas.

Knowing these quail are captive raised, they really have a tough chance at surviving in the wild. As Shires speculated “Don’t know if you would want to release them into the wild. “ and Rogers illustrated, “They (captive raised quail) have no skills for living in the wild.”

Captive raised quail lack behavioral characteristics of quail in the wild. They lack the ability to avoid predators, nest and raise young successfully. Years ago many captive bred quail were released into the wild in several locations across the United States in an attempt restore declining population numbers. After spending lots of money these quail introduction programs were unsuccessful. The captive bred quail were not equipped to survive in the wild.

In our city of Dallas, the habitat is just not there to support wild quail. Dumping quail in the area can also have detrimental effects to other native wild birds. Captive raised animals are more likely to spread diseases and parasites to their wild counterparts.

It turned out, we may have quail on the trail, but not a viable wild population.

Today, September 1, 2014, is the first day of quail season in Texas as it is the 100th anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon, Martha. Skies filled with passenger pigeons from one horizon to another. I can’t imagine. I hope the fate of the Bobwhite is not the same of the passenger pigeon.

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