Releasing Pen-raised Turkey, Bobwhite Quail, or Other Birds
By Steve Bittner,
Wildlife and Heritage Service
Many landowners contact Maryland DNR expressing an interest in purchasing "game-farm" or pen-raised turkey and quail for release on their property. The Maryland DNR Wildlife Service does not condone this practice. In fact, it is against the law for people to release pen-raised turkeys. Also DNR does not favor the release of any pen-raised bird for a variety of reasons.
First, "game-farm" or pen-raised turkey or quail are those hatched from eggs taken from wild nests or from hen birds raised under human control. Birds raised in this manner are deprived of normal parental influences and normal social interactions with an average-sized flock. They in turn never develop social behaviors needed to survive outside the pen-raised situation, and rarely survive for very long in the wild once released.
Secondly, birds bred in pen-raised conditions tend to have favorable "wild" characteristics bred out of the population after several generations in captivity. Pen-raised birds are relatively docile and tolerate captive conditions unlike wild birds.
Thirdly, young birds or poults, raised in pens containing hundreds of birds are deprived of the opportunity to learn survival behaviors from a wild adult bird. Essentially, pen-raised birds lack the knowledge of proper predator recognition, proper response to predators and other dangers, identification skills of food sources, geography of home range, or even proper social behaviors such as vocalizations and flocking behaviors.
Lastly, and most importantly, pen-raised birds have an increased probability of contracting disease and spreading parasites under confined conditions. If pen-raised birds manage to survive disease and parasite attacks, the survivors are often carriers of infectious disease. If these birds are then released into the wild, they run of the risk of coming into contact with and infecting wild birds which will have a disastrous effect on the whole population in the area.
Many state wildlife agencies, including Maryland, have tried to artificially restock their game bird populations by releasing pen-raised birds. There have been more failures than successes and it has taken two decades of trail and error attempts for state wildlife agencies to consistently agree that pen-raised bird introductions simply do not work!
However, the Maryland DNR Wildlife and Heritage Service has been successful in re-establishing wild turkey populations in every county in the state. This was accomplished by an intensive, live trap and transport effort that started in 1979. It is very likely that turkeys will naturally expand into your area in the next few years provided that all of their habitat requirements are met. Maintaining and enhancing the existing habitat on your property is the single most important thing you could do to benefit wild turkey and other wildlife on your property.