MASKED BOBWHITE RELEASE PROGRAM AT
THE BUENOS AIRES NWR
by Mary Ann Chapman
After a limited effort in 1985, the first full-
scale Masked Bobwhite release program was conducted at Arizona's Buenos Aires NWR in 1986. The .
program began on March 25 with receipt of the
first shipment of adult male Northern Bobwhite
from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and
ended when the last coveys were released in December.
During the winter and spring reintroduction
facilities were almost doubled by construction of 14
new holding pens and 20 new runs, enlargement of
the screened holding enclosure to accomodate the
new pens and purchase of two additional brooders.
We now have a holding capacity of 280 Northern
Bobwhite adult foster parents and 360 Masked Bob-
white chicks. We receive shipments of 300 chicks
each, which we divide into broods of 15.
During March and April four shipments of
adult Northern Bobwhite arrived. In May and June
refuge personnel were busy surgically sterilizing 246
adults, with a very low mortality of only 4 birds.
Sterilization prevents them from interbreeding with
Masked Bobwhite in future years. Males are used
because they are easier to sterilize than females
and are equally good parents. Eight shipments of
chicks from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife captive
breeding facility at Patuxent, Maryland, began on
July 16 and continued every two weeks until October 29. A total of 2,079 chicks were received,
most of which were three weeks old.
Chick mortality prior to release is primarily
due to stress caused by shipping. The loss in 1987
was 18%, up from 11% in 1985 mainly because of
problems with airline schedules. Refuge staff tried
to minimize the loss by meeting flights upon arrival, rushing the chicks to the refuge and immediately feeding sugar water to each of the 300.
Though tedious, this remedy seemed to aid survival.
Chicks were then placed into heated brooders
in which male adults had already been acclimated.
After about a day to recover from shipping stress,
the heat was turned down, forcing the chicks to
seek warmth around the male. About 24 hours was
allowed to determine whether the adult was adopting the brood. If not, another male was tried.
When adoption was successful, the birds were left
in the brooder for about a week and then placed in
a run for another week to become accustomed to
outdoor conditions and learn feeding behaviors. Then
about five weeks old, the chicks were released with
their foster parent.
When adoption did not occur on the second
attempt the chicks were left in the brooder with
the second male and gradually weaned off the heat
over about a two-week period. Then they were
placed in runs for about a month before being released at an age of 8-10 weeks. Often during that
period a covey bond developed: the male seemed to
develop some affinity for the chicks and became
protective of them even though he had not adopted
them in the brooder.
In 1986 56% of the adult males introduced to
broods adopted them. Most broods were adopted by
either the first or second male, resulting in 109
broods released while still chicks. An additional 19
groups were released as immatures in coveys, for
a total of 126 releases and 1,699 chicks released.
All releases were south of Arivaca Road which bisects the refuge about twelve miles north of the
Mexican border, in a no-quail-hunting closure area.
Scaled Quail males and females were used as
foster parents on a limited experimental basis. Of
nine adoption attempts, six resulted in releases.
Two Of the broods were subsequently seen on several occasions, and one was known to have failed.
In December three Masked Bobwhite originally released in two different Scaled Quail broods were
trapped in a covey consisting of Masked Bobwhite
only. If all foster parents could be Scaled Quail
we could eliminate the cost of obtaining Northern
Bobwhite and the effort of sterilizing them, since
they would not interbreed with the Masked Bob-
white. In 1987 the biological and behavioral aspects and implications of using Scaled Quail will be
In February of 1986 some Masked Bobwhite
trapped from the wild in Mexico were added to the
Patuxent breeding stock to maintain genetic viability. About 160 of our chicks in late 1986 shipments were descendents of the new adults.
The 1987 release program will include two
changes. No. 1: So far the program has been timed
to coincide with the natural nesting period of the
masked Bobwhite, which comes after the summer
rains. However, Northern Bobwhite nest in Texas
in the spring. Therefore in an attempt to increase
the rate of adoptions we will move our release program about a month earlier, beginning in late June
or early July and continuing through September.
No. 2: This year we will begin releasing birds north
of Arivaca Road, with supplemental releases south
of the road. The Masked Bobwhite goal established
in the refuge draft master plan is an average self-
sustaining population of 750 birds, and peak numbers of 1,250. This exceeds the single population
goal set forth by the overall Masked Bobwhite recovery plan.
This data was taken from a report prepared
by Steve J. Dobrott, refuge biologist and chief
mother hen of the Masked Bobwhite.
NON-BOBWHITE NOTES: In addition to four
species of quail (Gambel's, Scaled, Montezuma and
Masked Bobwhite), the refuge features a delicious
assortment of other Arizona specialties including
most of Patagonia's claims to fame: Thick-billed
Kingbird, Rose-throated Becard, Northern Beardless
Tyrannulet and Gray Hawk, the last three nesting.
The birding highlights so far at my house, one of
the refuge hot spots, were the Five-striped Sparrow
found by Ben Feltner at my windmill in August,
and the Painted Bunting which I found in my bird
bath in October. Birders came from Phoenix to
add it to their state lists.
My sincere apologies to the few people who
were planning to visit last year, when my plans and
good intentions were totally discombobulated by the
five-day 11,000-acre wildfire which disrupted our
lives in May. If you let me know of a planned