|After spending the winter under the care of students at University Nevada, Reno (UNR), 46 mountain quail from China Lake, California, were released at a site in northern Elko County in May.
This is the third release in northeastern Nevada, totaling over 150 birds, as Nevada Division of Wildlife (NDOW) biologists attempt to reintroduce this native quail into northern Nevada.
The birds were captured last Labor Day weekend at artificial watering devices, known as guzzlers, located on the China Lake military proving grounds. The birds are easy to capture at the end of the summer in their search for water in the high desert climate found there.
The guzzlers are fenced off, with only small openings allowing access to the water. After watering, fencing within the guzzler enclosure guides the birds into small wire pens where they are easily removed for transport to Nevada.
NDOW game biologist, Sid Eaton, Elko, explained that wild-captured birds are preferred over their pen-reared relatives. "Research has shown that the highest survival rate of transplanted quail is reached when wild-trapped birds are released in the spring. The birds nest soon after their release, providing offspring that are "native" to the relocation site, giving the birds a greater chance of making it through the next winter.
"However, the birds are most easily trapped at the end of the summer when water is scarce, thus, the reason for holding them over the winter at UNR before release in the spring."
The release site in northern Elko County meets the specific habitat needs for the birds to survive in the harsh environment, according to Eaton. "There are steep north and south-facing slopes that provide shade in the summer and warmth in the winter. The steep south-facing slopes maintain little or no snow cover, allowing the birds to forage easily throughout the long, cold winter of northeastern Nevada."
The creek at the bottom of the canyon provides the riparian zone that the birds use for spring nesting, summer foraging, as well as supplying open water during the winter.
The project is scheduled to continue for several years, as long as birds are available from China Lake, with the hopes of establishing a self-sustaining population of mountain quail.
Several other mountain ranges in Nevada either have or are slated to receive releases of mountain quail as the wild birds become available.
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