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(Original publication: July 14, 2004)

POCANTICO HILLS — A Pleasantville High School junior set free 140 quail in the community this week in an attempt by members of a 4-H Club to reintroduce the species to the region.

Colin Stapleton, who led the project, released the birds Monday and yesterday at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

Amid yesterday morning's drizzle, Stapleton and his mother, Maureen, released 80 quail in two groups. The first flew immediately out of their cage, alighting on the grass nearby and calling to one another. The second group huddled together at first, quiet and wide-eyed, frightened by a high-pitched sound made by other birds. Instinct tells quail to drop to the ground and remain motionless when they sense danger.

With some prodding by Stapleton, the birds overcame their timidity and joined their brethren that had been released in the same area on Monday.

Bobwhite quail, native to the region, were eliminated in the 1950s when advances in tractor technology made it difficult for the birds to escape the quickly moving metal teeth, Stapleton said. Suburban sprawl also encroached upon their territory, he said.

On his mother's suggestion, Stapleton became involved with the Wings and Waddles 4-H Club in the seventh grade. "At the time, I was interested in two things: hawks and wolves. I ended up going with hawks," said Stapleton, 15, who had a state license to conduct the project and plans to get a wildlife rehabilitation license when he turns 16.

Stapleton said the former Rockefeller estate is an ideal environment for quail because of the balance of forest and pasture. Quail nest along a forest's edge and find their food in the long grass in fields. They eat small insects and plants. The birds are small, ranging from 10 to 12 ounces when mature. They have a life expectancy of two to five years.

Stapleton's father, Frank, said that hopes are high for the newly released quail because the turkey population seems to have increased. Quail and turkey are preyed upon by the same types of animals, including racoons, coyotes, foxes, hawks, dogs and cats. 4-H got the eggs in April from a hatchery in Pennsylvania.

Three years ago, the Stapletons introduced 29 quail at Hudson Pines Farm in Sleepy Hollow, but they are unsure if that population took. Those quail were about a year old at the time of their release, and much more domesticated. Not only are the quail released this week more numerous, but they are also much younger, about 8 to 9 weeks old. They should still have all necessary survival instincts.

Colin Stapleton said that if only 10 percent of the 140 quail survive, there will be enough birds to form a covey, reproduce and proliferate. Quail form coveys of 10 to 20 birds each. About one square mile of land is used per covey. The Stone Barns property, with 80 acres, and the Hudson Pines Farm property, with 200 acres, provide ample land for the current population.

The Stapletons keep four chickens. They also raised pheasants several years ago for release.

Stapleton is unsure whether he will lead the 4-H project next year. The club is headquartered at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Valhalla and some meetings are held at the Grange, a farmers cooperative, in Yorktown. Seven other members participated this year, helping to incubate, brood and tag the quail. Besides Stapleton, others released more than two dozen quail on land elsewhere in Westchester.

Stapleton said raising the quail was a fulfilling experience.

"We love them," he said. "We actually kept the first ones for a year, and we were able to hear the males' mating song."

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