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May 28, 2019 11:43 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Trying To Create A Quail Comeback At Montauk County Park

Third House Nature Center hosted their first bobwhite quail release of the year in partnership with Montauk School's science lab that helped THNC hatch and rear the quail this spring.  KYRIL BROMLEY
May 28, 2019 12:08 PM

Jessica James, a volunteer overseeing a quail rejuvenation project for the Third House Nature Center, was eating dinner under the pavilion at Montauk County Park just before sunset one evening on a May weekend. She couldn’t help but notice a small brown bird wandering around the sitting area, chirping loudly.

To her surprise, it was a female bobwhite quail—one she had raised and released last year at the park. She was able to identify it by a metal band that volunteers had placed on its leg at that time, one of five releases over the course of the year.

On Thursday, May 23, Third House Nature Center released another 35 quail, in a continuing effort to reinvigorate the local population at Montauk County Park, which has a very inviting—especially for quail—1,157 acres of wooded trails, lush grasses and abundant ponds.

Bobwhite quail, now nearly completely absent from Montauk, once were spotted all over. The rejuvenation program—which hatches, tags and releases baby quail—was initiated last year in partnership with Suffolk County Parks, and it is scheduled to continue over the next four years.

“We wanted to help bring them back,” Ms. James said on Thursday. “We know that we’ve been somewhat successful, too. This year, so far, we’ve had many sightings of our quail.”

Ms. James said 160 quail were released in various locations at Montauk County Park last year. This year, somewhere around 300 will be released.

The small brown birds with round bodies, small heads, short tails and rounded wings are often found in open pine forests, overgrown fields, grasslands and shrubby areas, making Montauk County Park an ideal place for the quail to thrive, because it provides grassland for food—the birds eat insects, seeds and grass—cover from predators, and a good source of water.

Ms. James explained that quail are an important part of the local ecosystem, and of the food chain. Quail eat ticks and the like, and quail are a source of food for foxes and larger birds, such as hawks.

Thursday was the first bobwhite quail release of the year in partnership with the Montauk School’s science lab. A bus full of fourth-graders in Kathy Havlik and Chantal Adamcewicz’s classes arrived at the park at 11 a.m. to watch the little birds take flight. The students excitedly trekked up a small hill where a metal cage filled with quail was sitting.

Ms. James pointed out that a few minutes prior to their arrival, one of the quail had laid an egg. The students’ “oohs and aahs” could be heard as she picked up the egg so everyone could take a closer look.

Before releasing the quail, Ms. James identified the small metal bands around the birds’ right legs. Every single bird is numbered and logged into Ms. James computer. Quail with metal bands on their left legs were released last year.

Ms. James opened a bag of bird feed and advised the students to each grab to sprinkle around, with the hope that some of the birds would stick around for the children to observe.

Ms. James first released a group of younger quail, which had recently been hatched at the Montauk School. The young birds took off right away while the students watched.

A group of older quail that have been living with Ms. James lingered, allowing the students to watch and get close to them. The older quail walked out of the large metal crate one by one, but a handful were comfortable in the cage, and Ms. James had to give them a little push to get them out.

“The grownups have been in my backyard in a big flight pen,” she explained to the students. “They’re used to me, because I feed them. They’re much more tame than the young ones.”

Ms. James has even released a few quail in her backyard, as she has a pond, and shrubbery perfect for the quail to live in.

Todd Brunn, the Montauk School science teacher, was also at the park. He explained that the eggs took about 23 days to hatch, and that the students were able to watch the entire process. Mr. Brunn has another batch of eggs in the incubator that are slated to hatch on Saturday, June 1.

“Everybody in the school was involved,” he said. “It’s a great experience for the students to be a part of this project.”

Students often come into school reporting to Mr. Brunn their most recent quail sightings. “It’s great educationally, environmentally, and for the survival of the species,” he said.

“It’s amazing to see the eggs in the incubator,” Leonardo Mancinelli, a fourth-grader in Ms. Havlik’s class, said while watching a few of the lingering quail. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said of the entire process.

Leonardo said when he plays baseball in his backyard, he’ll hear high-pitched quail chirps a wooded area behind his house.

“You never used to see quail—now we’re seeing some,” Ms. Havlik added.

Terry Berger, another Third House Nature Center volunteer, said 22 of her 40 quail eggs had hatched a few days ago. Those birds will also be released once they are mature enough.

Ms. Berger said she hopes the re-population project can be expanded to East Hampton Town parks, and to other Suffolk County parks. “We want to start spreading the quail far and wide,” she with a smile as the students boarded the bus to return to school.

“Everybody is so in love with this program,” she added.

A few weeks ago, the Montauk Library added an incubator to its family room. Soon, a live feed of the eggs and chicks will be able to be viewed on their website.

Meanwhile, Third House Nature Center will continue to release the birds during the summer in the depths of Montauk County Park. Public releases for the community to witness will be announced for September and October.

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