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Histomoniasis (Blackhead Disease)
This too is a protozoan disease that is transmitted by the chicken cecal worm. Bobwhites are somewhat resistant to “blackhead”, but some fairly virulent strains of the organism have appeared in recent years. Quail growers that are raising birds on wire floors, or those with aggressive worming programs, have largely eliminated this threat by controlling cecal worm infections. Free-ranging yard chickens are a far greater threat as far as this disease is concerned.

Capillaria (Thread worm)
These are long, slender, white worms that infect the crop and esophagus. This parasite actually starves the bird to death once the infection is heavy enough. I have seen this parasite in wild bobwhites at low levels. Again, those game bird growers with aggressive worming programs have successfully controlled this problem. This parasite poses little threat to wild populations.

Avian Influenza (AI)
This highly contagious viral disease has the potential of devastating the poultry and game bird industries. Most outbreaks of (AI), such as the recent occurrence in North Carolina, start out as “mild” strains with low disease causing potential. However, as these “milder” strains are passed from bird to bird they can become much “stronger” due to changes that take place in their genetic makeup.

Natural reservoirs of (AI) exist in waterfowl and certain shore birds. These birds seem to be able to carry and shed the virus yet not be affected by it. Live poultry markets scattered throughout the U.S. appear to be the most likely source for (AI) infection. While bobwhite quail and other game birds are susceptible to (AI) infection, to my knowledge neither wild nor commercial quail have been established as reservoirs of this virus.

This disease should not be taken lightly. Don’t be upset if a grower is cautious about letting you in his facility. He doesn’t know what you may be tracking into his operation. There are already sources of (AI) viruses in nature, but we must strive to keep it out of our commercial poultry and game
bird industries.

I grew up hunting wild quail in coastal South Carolina, and later in south Georgia. I have a very high respect for this resource and feel that efforts need to continue to promote this valued part of our heritage. I wish we had enough wild bobwhite quail for every quail hunter to have the opportunity to hunt, but unfortunately this is not the case. Hunting released birds is a viable alternative to wild bird hunting. However, it is imperative that the released birds be obtained from a source that practices a conscientious health program.

This is important for two reasons. First, unhealthy birds probably will not perform well in the field. Second, we have a moral obligation not to release birds into the habitat that could pose a disease threat to what is left of our wild bird resource. However, most of the diseases mentioned in this article are only a problem while the birds are being raised in confinement. They rarely occur as outbreaks in the wild. Thus, it is my sincere belief that the threat of disease being introduced into our native population by released birds is minimal at best, but we must continue to be vigilant and take steps to keep it this way. The first step being to obtain healthy birds from a reputable supplier who implements a good health maintenance program.

If you would like to contact Dr. Eleazer, you may call him at 1-803-782-0747.
This article was reprinted with permission from July-August 2002 Quail Unlimited Magazine. For membership or magazine call 1-803-637-5731.

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