Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Charles L. Elliott

Department Affiliation

Biological Sciences

Second Advisor

Robert B. Frederick

Department Affiliation

Biological Sciences

Third Advisor

Stephen Sumithran

Department Affiliation

Biological Sciences

Abstract

The fate of pen-raised bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) released onto two farms (Site 1 and 2) and a reclaimed coal surface mine (Site 3) in south-central Kentucky during the summers of 2008 and 2009 was assessed. Of the 57 bobwhite quail radio-tagged and released in this study, the fate of 26 (45%) was unknown because the telemetry signal was lost and the birds could not be located. Within 34 days after release, mortality of the remaining 31 radio-tagged birds was 100%. Raptors, coyotes, and mesomammal predators were responsible for most (84%) of the identified quail mortality; accounting for the deaths of 12, 9, and 5 quail, respectively. There was no significant difference in mean length of survival for male vs female bobwhites at Site 1 (t=0.81, P=0.44), Site 2 (t=0.0, P=1.0), or Site 3 (t=0.28, P=0.78). For all sites combined, mean quail survival duration was greater in 2008 (6.7 + 6.4 days) than in 2009 (3.0 + 2.6 days), but not significantly greater (t=1.8, P=0.07). Correspondingly, mean survival duration (all sites combined) for males (7.0 + 8.5 vs 2.5 + 2.2 days) and females (6.7 + 6.4 vs 3.5 + 3.0 days) was greater in 2008 than in 2009, respectively; but the difference was not significant (t=1.67, P=0.12; t=0.94, P=0.36, respectively).

Similar to the general trend reported by other researchers, the mean survival duration for pen-raised bobwhite quail released into the wild in this study was low. Similar to what has been reported in studies across the southeast and midwest that monitored the fate of pen-raised quail released into the wild, predation was the main source of mortality for birds in this study. The high predation rates documented in this study, and the lack of wariness displayed by birds days after being released (pers. observ.) suggest pen-raised bobwhite quail lack predator avoidance behavior. Birds in this study exhibited little fear of humans, tended not to fly when approached by people, walked in an erect posture [making them potentially conspicuous to predators], and were repeatedly observed in open areas away from cover.

Researchers have suggested that releasing pen-reared quail may actually threaten wild quail populations and other indigenous bird species in the release area. Issues such as the displacement of wild birds, disease transmission, increasing predator populations (by creating high densities of easily captured pen-reared birds), and altering the genetic composition of wild quail (diluting the wild gene pool via inbreeding with pen-raised birds), may individually or in combination negatively impact populations of resident bobwhite quail. Based on this study, releasing pen-raised bobwhite quail as a mechanism to increase quail populations in Kentucky does not appear to be a viable strategy.

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