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Boy Scout helps bring baby quail back 'home'

To lower the dramatic increase in Long Island's deer tick population, an Old Bethpage Eagle Scout is supporting North Hempstead's initiative to repopulate local quail, which is an effective means of tick control.  (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca)

The Town of North Hempstead has raised Northern Bobwhite quail for the past two years, and Daniel Reilly, 16, of Old Bethpage, is making the third year memorable.

In the past, quail would stay for eight weeks at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown to mature out of the public eye, but now visitors at Clark Botanic Garden in Albertson will get to watch the birds learn how to fly in the pen that Reilly built alongside other volunteers.

“I feel really good about the project,” said Reilly, who attends Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in Plainview. "I hope people like it."

The Boy Scout, who constructed the pen as part of his Eagle Scout project, stood in his uniform covered with badges as he received an award earlier this month from North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth.

“I can’t believe he got it done in such a quick time,” Bosworth said. Reilly worked on the 8-foot-by-12-foot pen, which he refers to as “the quail summer camp,” for two weeks on the weekends. The wooden structure covered in hardware cloth holds 19 baby quail, which are all almost 2 weeks old, but the pen can fit up to 100 quail. Reilly fundraised to buy the materials to build the pen.

Wildlife educator Eric Powers started the quail program in hopes of lowering the growing deer tick population, which he noticed after years of leading school nature hikes at Caleb Smith Park. Reintroducing quail to the area is “a good way to help and protect our environment without pesticides,” Powers said.

North Hempstead Deputy Parks Commissioner John Darcy said it is better than using chemicals. He also said the program is fitting because Bobwhite quail are native to Long Island. 

Housing quail at Clark will also serve as an educational tool for the public. Informational signs will discuss the quail project and illustrate the life cycle of the Northern Bobwhite quail, said Powers, host of the town’s nature program “Off the Trail.” The program teaches children about quail and gives them the chance to watch as they hatch from their eggs.

“I had so many teachers each year asking me to take their chickens or ducks that they had hatched in the classrooms as part of their life cycles unit, which shows how an animal grows and develops, and one day it hit me … why don’t these teachers switch to Bobwhite quail eggs?” Powers said.

Bosworth hopes to have music to accompany the release of the quail  next month at the Hempstead Harbor trail. “They’re going to love it; they’re so cute,” Bosworth said. The quail will be 10 weeks old at the time of their release.

Until then, botanical garden staff will care for the birds by giving them food and water and watching them learn to fly.

After the quail leave, Powers said, the pen will be used to raise chickens.

What they need

For quail to thrive, they birds need:

  • Plenty of space. Quail can roam anywhere from about 80 to 200 acres, so keeping them in a backyard isn't suitable, wildlife educator Eric Powers said.
  • To eat insects, seeds and leaves, he said.

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