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Northern Bobwhite Chick Ecology

Patagial (wing) tagged chick

Patagial (wing) tagged chick

Despite Northern Bobwhite being one of the most extensively studied game birds in the world, we have relatively scant knowledge about the first few months of their lives. Chick ecology represents one of the biggest gaps in knowledge for the species and is currently a heavy focus of our research efforts to better understand what drives reproductive success to fall recruitment. Bobwhites are precocial, meaning the young are relatively mature, can feed on their own almost immediately and are mobile from the moment of hatch. However, neonate bobwhites are incapable of thermoregulating on their own and require parental care to keep warm as well as to learn behavioral mechanisms key to survival such as feeding and predator avoidance. Our current research focus is designed to better understand neonate and chick survival, causes of mortality, habitat use, and social dynamics.

Since little is known about the survival of neonates (chicks less than 4 weeks) up to 3 months of age, we are using 3 techniques to estimate survival of bobwhite neonates and chicks. The first technique involves uniquely marking individual chicks. We accomplish this by tracking adult birds using radio-telemetry, capturing their young, and patagial (wing) tagging them at 10-11 days of age. From this we can estimate survival using mark-recapture methods via trapping and recovery through harvest. Since 2000 we have tagged more than 1800 chicks with patagial tags.

Some researchers have used flush counts to estimate survival at 14 and 21 days of age; however uncertainty exists in the accuracy of flush counts which may severely underestimate true survival. Also, brood amalgamation (mixing of chicks among broods) is known to be high during some years and may vary with bobwhite density among other factors; thus, counting chicks using flush techniques may also result in over estimation of true survival. We have been testing a novel technique using Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) technology to count bobwhite chicks from time of hatch through 21 days of age to better estimate survival. By repeatedly visiting and obtaining multiple counts using FLIR technology, we can estimate survival, emigration and immigration (i.e., amalgamation) using a statistical modelling approach.

 

 

Radio-tagged bobwhite chick

Radio-tagged bobwhite chick

We have also developed a modified suture technique to attach miniature radio tags to 10-12 day old bobwhite chicks. This tagging approach involves suturing radio-tags to the backs of chicks allowing us to track bobwhite chicks more frequently and observe daily movement, causes of mortality, behavior such as feeding and amalgamation, habitat use, and better estimate survival up to 4 months of age. This advancement in technology will provide a window into what is going on during the first few months of a chick’s life.