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Relocation expected to boost understanding of quail.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

ROSEBURG - An eye-catching bird with head plumage as disproportionately distinctive as a Las Vegas showgirl's is the subject of the latest species recovery effort in Oregon.

The project involves an attempt to restore mountain quail to their historic range east of the Cascades.

Mountain quail are the largest member of the quail family. Male and female alike sport a distinctive tall, thin, backward-tilting head plume along with flashy white vertical stripes on their flanks and black, and white and chestnut brown markings on their throat.

Mountain quail are trapped in Douglas and Jackson counties, where they are still relatively plentiful, and released in eastern Oregon.

About 300 birds - many of them sporting radio collar necklaces that will allow researchers to track their movements - are being released this spring at three sites in the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests.

Historically, mountain quail were found in all 36 Oregon counties. Over the years, however, "populations have declined fairly dramatically" in southeast and central Oregon, said Michael Pope, a faculty research associate with the gamebird research program at Oregon State University.

Pope is overseeing a cooperative mountain quail restoration/research project that also involves the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the conservation group Quail Unlimited and the Oregon Hunters Association.

The groups were trying to improve the mountain quail's lot even before a petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for mountain quail in portions of eastern Oregon, Nevada, Idaho and Washington was filed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently denied the petition, saying there is insufficient evidence that mountain quail in those areas are genetically distinct from those found elsewhere in the West.

The Oregon mountain quail trap-and-transplant program began in 2001, with about 200 birds being released in the John Day River basin during the first two years.

The project took a significant jump in scale over the winter as the private trapper hired to catch the elusive birds was able to bring a significantly larger number of birds to a holding facility at ODFW's regional headquarters in Roseburg.

"I'm a little hesitant to say too much about my trapping techniques, but I have cage traps that I developed and they work quite well," trapper Jerry Wilson said.

As he talked, Wilson was helping leg-band, radio-collar, weigh and draw blood samples from birds about to be trucked to the Lake Billy Chinook area for release along Fly Creek, near the site of the Eyerly Fire that burned nearly 24,000 acres last summer.

Wildlife biologists suspect that aggressive fire suppression has changed the habitat of eastern Oregon in ways that make it less suitable for mountain quail. But they're not really sure.

"This is the least-studied quail in North America," Pope said. "We have very little information about its biology or life history."

Pope said monitoring of the transmitter-toting birds will provide data that can used to refine procedures for future translocations and to learn more about the habitat requirements of mountain quail.

Biologists do know that the mountain quail has a "unique reproductive process in that the male participates fully in the incubation strategy," Pope said.

"What happens is that the female will lay two clutches of eggs, a clutch for herself that she will incubate and another 30 to 100 yards away for her mate to incubate at the same time."

Between the two nests, a pair of mountain quail will produce an average of 22 chicks. Mortality rates, however, generally run 80 to 90 percent during the first year.

Researchers have already learned that some of the birds will migrate 30 miles or more between summer and winter ranges, and that some birds actually return to renest in the same spot as they did the previous year.

Pope said much work remains to be done if mountain quail numbers are to rebound.

"We'd like to keep this going anywhere from five to 10 years," he said. "Right now, we're trying to increase the number of cooperators in the project. ... Any contributions we get from private sources, we can usually get matched two or three times (from government agencies)."

Mountain quail are still a popular game bird in western Oregon. In eastern Oregon, however, hunting of mountain quail is allowed only in two counties, and there the season is short and the harvest limit small.


Quail, easily identified by their head plumage, are being released this spring at three sites in the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests.
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Title Annotation:A cooperative project is seeking to reintroduce the species in eastern Oregon; Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Apr 17, 2003
Previous Article:Oregon falls in line with reality.

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