How to Build Your Own Quail Surrogator: A Step-by-Step Guide

Raising quail can be a fun and rewarding hobby for any outdoor enthusiast. However releasing pen-raised quail into the wild often leads to poor survival rates. That’s where a quail surrogator comes in handy! A quail surrogator allows you to raise wild quail from eggs while avoiding human imprinting. The young quail imprint on the surrounding environment instead of humans before being released. This leads to higher post-release survival rates.

Commercial quail surrogators can cost $2000 or more. But with some basic construction skills and materials, you can build your own functional quail surrogator for a fraction of the cost. This step-by-step guide will teach you everything you need to know to build a DIY quail surrogator from start to finish.

What is a Quail Surrogator?

A quail surrogator is an enclosure used to hatch and raise young quail with minimal human interaction. It protects the eggs and chicks while providing food, water and heat until the birds are old enough for release. Surrogator-raised quail exhibit natural wild behaviors unlike pen-raised game birds.

Key features of a quail surrogator include:

  • A predator-proof enclosure with ventilation
  • Integrated or external brooding setup to control temperature
  • Automatic or easy-access food and water systems
  • Minimal visibility for birds to prevent imprinting
  • One-way release doors or panels

Outfitting your surrogator with these features allows you to raise wild quail ready for life in the wild.

Step 1: Design and Build the Enclosure

The quail surrogator enclosure serves as a protected, controlled environment for the young birds to grow. The structure should be:

  • Weatherproof and predator-proof
  • Well-ventilated with air vents and/or mesh panels
  • Dark or camouflaged to prevent imprinting
  • Minimum 4 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft interior dimensions
  • Doors/panels for easy access to the interior

For DIY construction, treated plywood or weather-resistant boards work well. Be sure to seal any gaps to prevent drafts and keep predators out. Install a few small vents near the top to allow fresh air circulation. Paint or camouflage wrap the exterior to blend into the surroundings.

Build a hinged roof panel to allow easy interior access. Install a locking latch or hook to secure it shut. Attach a release door or removable panel fitted with 1-inch mesh. This will let the young quail out when ready.

Place the surrogator enclosure in a suitable protected location near power access for the brooder heat source. Elevate the enclosure if possible to further deter predators.

Step 2: Add a Brooder Setup

Young quail chicks need supplemental heat until they develop feathers around 2-3 weeks old. You’ll need to add a brooder setup to one corner of the surrogator enclosure. The brooder keeps the interior at ideal temperatures of 90-95°F for newly hatched chicks.

For small surrogators, you can use a heat lamp or commercial brooder plate attached to the ceiling. For larger units, install a radiant heat panel wired to a thermostat controller to maintain the desired temperature range automatically.

Place a hardware cloth partition around the brooder area to prevent the chicks from crowding under the heat source once matured. This prevents overheating.

Power the brooder with an outdoor-rated extension cord running through a vent. Make sure to use proper safety precautions against electrical hazards and fire risks. Monitor the brooder frequently to ensure it maintains safe, consistent heat levels.

Step 3: Add Automatic Food and Water Systems

The next step is rigging up automatic feed and water systems inside the surrogator. This allows the young quail access without you needing to open the enclosure.

For feed, install a narrow PVC pipe or metal trough along one wall with caps on the ends. Drill a line of small holes along the bottom for the chicks to access food. Mount the feeder at chick height and increase its height as they grow.

Fill the feeder through a removable end cap. Use a funnel to reduce spillage and waste. Game bird or turkey starter feed works well.

Install a gravity waterer system with nipple drinkers or small troughs at floor level. These systems provide clean water without the mess of open containers. Run the water line through a vent.

Monitor food and water frequently to prevent shortages. Top off supplies slowly to avoid startling the chicks.

Step 4: Add a One-Way Release System

The final step is setting up a way for the young quail to leave the surrogator when they are ready for release.

Cut an 8-10 inch diameter hole in one wall and cover it with 1-inch hardware cloth. Build a tube extending 2 feet out from the hole at a downward angle. Cover the tube with mesh or roofing panels to block light.

The birds will venture out through this one-way system when mature but won’t be able to return. Remove any supplemental food sources before release to encourage the quail to head out and forage naturally.

Testing and Using Your DIY Quail Surrogator

Once constructed, test your quail surrogator before adding any birds. Verify temperatures and operation of the food, water, and release systems. Make any final tweaks to improve functionality before acquiring fertilized quail eggs.

When ready, place the eggs in the heated brooder and monitor them closely until hatching. Let the young chicks grow undisturbed while providing ample food and water. Avoid opening the enclosure unnecessarily.

The quail will begin exploring and leave the surrogator at around 4-6 weeks old through the one-way release tube. Enjoy watching the wild birds you raised thrive in their new home!

Building your own quail surrogator takes some effort but is very feasible for a committed hobbyist. The ability to raise wild quail on your property without human imprinting is extremely rewarding. Follow the plans and tips outlined to construct a fully-functional surrogator for a fraction of commercial prices. Let us know how your quail surrogator project turns out!

Frequency of Entities:
quail surrogator: 23
enclosure: 7
chicks: 6
release: 6
food: 5
water: 5
brooder: 4
heat: 4
young quail: 4
one-way: 3
build: 3
predator-proof: 2
imprinting: 2
ventilation: 2

Raising Wild Quail in a Surrogator #1 of 2


Do quail surrogators work?

Wildlife Management Technologies asserts 300,000 quail have been released from surrogators in 2006 with a survival rate of 65% (Wildlife Management Technologies 2009).

What kind of grass do quail like?

Examples of optimal native grasses for this purpose include Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), blunt broom sedge (Carex scoparia), side oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) and Virginia wildrye (Elymus virginicus).

What is the best quail habitat?

Pastures and hayfields provide valuable nesting habitat, and these areas can be improved by planting mixtures of native warm-season grasses (such as, big bluestem, Indian grass and little bluestem) and legumes. These grasses grow in clumps, which afford quail easy access to the food and cover benefits they provide.

How many quail & pheasant chicks can a surrogator hold?

The bird’s natural homing instinct motivates them to live and reproduce where they were raised and released. The Surrogator® will hold 125 day-old quail chicks or 65 day-old pheasant chicks until they reach 4 to 5 weeks of age. The greatest mortality on the life of game birds happens in the nest and before three weeks of age.

How does a surrogator® work?

By placing the Surrogator® in a location where you would like to establish a huntable population of pheasant, quail, chukar, turkey, or other game birds, chicks raised in the unit become imprinted to that location. The bird’s natural homing instinct motivates them to live and reproduce where they were raised and released.

What is a surrogator®?

The Surrogator® is a self-contained field unit that will establish a huntable population of game birds on your property. This is NOT an adult bird release system! The Surrogator® functions as a “surrogate parent” by providing food, water, warmth and protection for the first 4 to 5 weeks of the bird’s life.

How many times a year should a surrogator be used?

A cycle can be repeated 3-5 times in a season, depending on the temperatures of your region. Depending on the habitat, we recommend one unit for every quarter section of property (every 160 acres or so). You may also like The Surrogator® is a self-contained field unit that will establish a huntable population of game birds on your property.

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