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FREEDOM FOR QUAIL
Most wildlife biologists agree that stocking pen-reared birds is an expensive and often unrewarding method of bolstering depleted game bird populations. Far more, they point out, can be accomplished through habitat improvement alone.
A forceful vindication of this thesis is furnished by the Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries Commission. As part of a long-term plan to demonstrate that habitat improvement benefits both game and landowners, the commission in 1949 acquired rundown Haw-field Plantation in Orange County. At that time there were only 16 coveys of quail on its entire 2,764 acres.
Commission field workers stocked no birds and exercised no predator control. They simply proceeded to reconstruct Hawfield as a farm, with special attention to fringe cover that would not only prevent erosion but afford protection and food for game.
Results have been startling. Hawfield today is an efficient, productive farm that is also stuffed with quail. At last count the commission located 75 large coveys and estimates that in dense cover areas there are still more.
If Virginia has helped prove what habitat improvement can do, a Massachusetts biologist has dramatically highlighted the unhappy alternative.
Conducting his experiments on quail-rich Cape Cod, Massachusetts Biologist Tom Ripley, a month before hunting season, released five pen-reared coveys of 20 birds each in cover that was already supporting a native quail population. Checking with dogs, Ripley found that only 34 stocked quail survived until opening day.
Ten of these were shot in season and by January, 14 more had expired. This represented a 90% mortality, yet during the same three-month period native quail in the same area suffered a much lower 39% mortality.
"By the time most pen-reared birds learned how to act like quail," comments Ripley, "it was too late even under favorable habitat conditions."