Introducing puppies to birds…in two short videos

Twelve-week-old Northwoods Diana (RU-CH Northwoods Nirvana x Northwoods Carbon, 2017) exhibits remarkable poise, style and intensity while pointing a bobwhite quail.

Even though much of raising puppies is simply playing with them and enjoying their antics, Betsy and I do have a set schedule of things to introduce and what training to start. Bird introduction, which we begin at about 12 weeks, is probably the most fun and interesting. At this age, it’s all instinct; but for us as breeders, it’s really exciting to see what genetic tendencies and qualities we recognize.

This spring, two litters were whelped within 10 days of each other–Northwoods Grits x Northwoods Nickel and Northwoods Nirvana x Northwoods Carbon. Betsy and I kept four puppies from the first litter and two from the second.

We eagerly look forward to our puppy training sessions at the end of the day. Using either bobwhite quail or chukars flushed from their houses, we walk the puppies through the area where the birds flew. Watching them discover bird scent, follow, point (maybe hold for a bit), back (maybe) and then chase the birds is a highlight of our day.

Calling all would-be or experienced Minnesota woodcock banders

The annual spring woodcock banding event for Minnesota has been announced. Jerry and I know several banders and they are excited to get out in the woods with their dogs and contribute to the resource. Donna Dustin, wildlife biologist for the Minnesota DNR and coordinator of the event, called woodcock banding an “addictive pursuit.”

Due the increased popularity of this worthwhile activity, an additional weekend has been added.

The first weekend, May 12 – 14, is a training weekend for new banders. May 19 – 21 is the second weekend and will be “a banding-only event, where we can gather together for camaraderie and spend as much time as we want in some of the best woodcock cover in the state,” according to Donna.

Both weekends will be headquartered at Pineridge Grouse Camp, near Remer, Minnesota.

For more information, please visit:

Or contact:
Donna Dustin:
Jerry Havel:

On a side note, Amanda and Tom Dosen-Windorski are old pros at woodcock banding in Minnesota and this spring the couple was honored for their devotion and volunteering.

Amanda and Tom have bought several setters from Jerry and me, dogs that they bring into the woods each spring. Duke is their seasoned star but they just added a puppy, Tru, out of Blue Riptide x Northwoods Chablis.


A call for woodcock banders

blog woodcock banding 460

Tom Windorski of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, is one of our favorite clients. He’s an upbeat guy with a big heart, ready smile and a twinkle in his eye. He has a very nice family—wife Amanda and daughters Emily and Samantha—and usually an English setter or two. According to Tom, their newest dog might be one of their best. Duke is out of the 2013 breeding (and last) of our successful nick, Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice.

Tom is a passionate hunter of ruffed grouse, woodcock and prairie birds but he also gives back to the sport through, among other ways, woodcock banding. Tom and his bird dogs have spent many springs out in the woods. As he wrote, “It’s a good time and great way to get the dogs, and owners, out in the cover to knock off the winter rust!”

Tom passed along an email from Donna Dustin, Volunteer Woodcock Banding Coordinator, with information for both new and returning banders.

“Hello Woodcock Banders!

“What better way to spend a snowy, windy Sunday than to dream about spring in the woods! I’m looking forward to our Banding Program this year and I hope that many of you will be a part of it.

“We will be having another Woodcock Banders’ Training Session at Pineridge Grouse Camp in Remer (Minnesota) on May 13-15, 2016. The format will be similar to past years, with a few new things planned, including banding some captive birds so that everyone will be guaranteed the chance to handle birds and apply bands, even if they aren’t actual woodcock.

“Please contact Jerry Havel (218-301-6083 or ) to make arrangements for attending this fun and educational weekend. Experienced banders are encouraged to attend along with new folks. If you are a new bander we will train you and certify your dog as steady to wing and ready for banding.

“Even if you aren’t sure whether you or your dog are ready, it is still worthwhile for both of you to come to this training. You will get the opportunity to search for and band birds with experienced banding teams. This experience is required before you can be issued a permit, and it will be very helpful to you as you finish your own dog’s training. It is also a great opportunity to get training advice and help from some very skilled dog trainers.”

For more details:

For further information:
Donna Dustin
Volunteer Woodcock Banding Coordinator
25480 East Cozy Cove Rd
Detroit Lakes, MN 56501

Ruffed grouse in the winter of 2013 – 2014

A grouse perches in a young aspen on a cold winter morning in the woods surrounding the kennel.

A grouse perches in a young aspen on a cold winter morning in the woods surrounding the kennel.

The ruffed grouse of the northern parts of their range instinctively know how to survive the worst winter weather. Jerry and I have seen depressions and wing marks on the surface of the snow where grouse have burst out of their roosts. While it’s common knowledge that birds fluff out their feathers for insulation we were astounded by Jim Brandenburg’s photograph of an inflated grouse. (Search for NW798 at

Dan Stadin, the guy who works with us and is managing the Minnesota kennel while Jerry and I work in southwest Georgia, has noticed grouse in the woods surrounding our place. On a recent early morning, he caught one sitting in a young aspen.

While perched high in birch trees, three ruffed grouse feed on twigs and buds.

While perched high in birch trees, three ruffed grouse feed.

Bill Heig of Bowen Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish saw three grouse in the upper branches of two birch trees, filling up, no doubt, on buds and twigs.

Bobwhite quail at 18 degrees

blog quail at 18

Bobwhite quail are an integral part of many training programs at Northwoods Bird Dogs. From early summer through the November Puppy program, Jerry and Dan maintain four houses full of birds.

This year they hatched the clever idea to overwinter the remaining quail in an unused pigeon coop. According to Dan, the birds are doing just fine. “They fly to the shelf in the sun and perch there during the day.”

And at night, they form two big coveys on the floor of the coop where Dan placed insulated mats.

Pigeons and nutrition

In their nesting bowl, a newly hatched young bird and an unopened egg sit under the watchful eye of a female homer.

In their nesting bowl, a newly hatched pigeon and an unopened egg sit under the watchful eye of a female homer.

Even with pigeons, nutrition matters.

Since Jerry was a kid of 10, he has raised pigeons. Back then, in addition to common homing pigeons, he had show pigeons, fantails, tipplers and rollers.

In the world of bird dog training, homers are used extensively for staunchness and steadiness training, especially when the use of game birds is impractical. So Jerry switched to raising homing pigeons exclusively when he got his first pointing dog in 1987. Due primarily to a tight wallet but also a bit to a busy schedule, Jerry fed whole corn and granite grit. He had the occasional reproduction problem—fewer eggs laid, eggs that didn’t hatch and, sadly, baby pigeons that died in the nest.

When Dan began working with us, Jerry’s schedule opened up and, as he had long suspected, the pigeons were in need of better care. Jerry researched feeding and health issues and even had a stool sample evaluated by veterinarian/bird specialist.

Soon things changed. The pigeons are now fed a commercially prepared, nutritionally balanced mix of whole corn, wheat and milo. A new grit product that contains essential minerals and vitamins is part of their diet. Too, the pigeons are on a strict regimen of preventative treatments for common diseases and worms.

The outcome? The pigeons look better and fly stronger. And they now successfully lay eggs and raise plenty of young pigeons.

What do bobwhite quail do all day?

A male bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) walks swiftly from its roosting site.

Jerry and I became even more fascinated by bobwhite quail while spending the winter training on a quail plantation in southwest Georgia.

First of all, they are tiny…..and weigh just 6 oz. Like ruffed grouse, they are perfectly plumaged as to be practically invisible, even when looking straight at them. We discovered that they are as wily and evasive as grouse, too. To avoid dogs and hunters, they run fast and far or they burrow in/under a clump of wiregrass or other cover where even the most tenacious Labrador or cocker spaniel will have difficulty with location.

We adore the distinctive “bob white, bob white” whistle. Perhaps most of all, though, we never tire of the exhilaration, fast action and flurry of wings when a covey rises.

Bobwhite quail fly into heavy cover after the flush.

But we wanted to know more so Jerry spent hours studying the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy website. Tall Timbers is located outside Tallahassee, Florida, on a former quail plantation. It is widely regarded for its research and as a resource in the areas of fire ecology and wildlife and game bird management of the Southeastern Coastal Plain.

One of the cool things they researched during a hunting season was “Patterns of Bobwhite Covey Activity.” Workers radio-tracked four coveys of quail continuously, recording their location and activity level every 15 minutes from daylight until dark. They overlaid that data onto weather data collected on the same 15-minute intervals at the Albany, Georgia, airport.

Generally, coveys ranged no more than 200 to 300 yards during a single day and 10 to 15 acres throughout the season.

A female bobwhite quail is hard to distinguish from among fallen pine needles.

And the daily habit?

Second hour of daylight: Covey moves off their roost and enters into period of peak activity. This high level of activity lasts for 1 to 1½ hours and then tapers off.

Midday:  Very little activity for 3 – 4 hours. Coveys often move to heavier cover to loaf.

Around 3:00 pm:  Activity levels start to pick up. Coveys usually have periods of feeding and then going to roost.

The research project also proved that quail covey movements were influenced by weather.

•    Active in cold temperatures and conditions with high humidity and light winds.
•    Inactive in hot temperatures and conditions with low humidity and high winds.
•    Inactive when raining.
•    Very little activity when the wind was from the east.
•    Activity levels tended to increase the day before a change in the weather suggesting that quail can sense an approaching weather event.

Learning about birds: Common Bobwhite Quail

A covey of bobwhite quail flush under the pines of a southern Georgia plantation.

For almost as long as I’ve been training bird dogs, I’ve used bobwhite quail. I’ve planted single quail, flushed quail from various recall pens and put out free coveys. I’ve followed their tracks in the snow; watched as a separated covey re-grouped; and observed roosting and feeding areas. Whether in Minnesota, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Tennessee or Georgia, I’ve watched hundreds of encounters between bobwhites and dogs.

In addition, I’ve been on countless hunting trips for quail throughout the Midwest. All this experience and observation has taught me a lot about their preferences and habits.

On our home training grounds, I buy enough bobwhites in July to fill four Johnny houses and use them until the snow stops me from training. These quail grow into extremely strong flyers that know their terrain as well as a wild bird. They even become comfortable enough to remain outside the recall pens and are healthy enough to survive on their own during winter conditions.

In August 2012, a covey disappeared from a recall pen and Dan and I couldn’t use that Johnny house during fall training. In mid December we heard that a covey of 11 had been flushed not far from the pen. This covey had been on its own for four months! When I checked it out—and by then it had snowed five inches—the covey flushed wild from a hillside with tall oak trees. The area was covered with quail tracks, snow had been scratched away and acorn pieces were scattered everywhere. Those birds had discovered a great food supply and had thrived.

Sometimes, though, they just disappear and I don’t know why.

Here are more observations about bobwhite quail.

•    Late in October 2011, Dan and I put out a covey in a likely location—a south-facing slope with lots of good cover options—and then spread feed around the area several times each week. In spite of several snow falls and sub-zero temperatures, we saw this covey into early March 2012.

•    Dogs often find ruffed grouse in the vicinity of the recall houses.  This might be coincidental but it does seem quail and grouse are in close proximity. In fact, I’ve seen evidence that grouse feed on the scratch grain we spread for the put-out coveys.

•    Like most adult game birds, the worst predators for bobwhites are hawks and owls. Often when it’s difficult to flush them from the Johnny house, a hawk is the reason. One will swoop in after some birds have been encouraged to leave. Cooper’s hawks are especially deadly. Countless times in Tennessee I saw a Cooper’s leaving a covey location when I approached to spread feed. They even chased quail when flushed from a covey in front of a dog’s point.

•    Last year, I hauled two dozen quail from our Tennessee training grounds back to Minnesota, thinking I could use them for some spring training. Even though Dan and I flushed a few, they didn’t recall back to their Johnny house. My guess is that they had started to pair up and preferred to stay out with their chosen mates. One male in particular started showing up around our house in early May. Betsy and I saw him only occasionally but heard his distinctive whistle almost daily. Later in June, our neighbor Jeff spotted a female quail with several chicks just east of our kennel. This brood turned into a small covey that was flushed occasionally in the same vicinity until late fall.

The rush of a covey flush

There is nothing more exhilarating to a bird dog or a bird hunter than the flush of birds.

It begins with the intense demeanor of the dog as it stands on point. Anticipation follows when the hunter moves in front of the dog. The explosion of wings is the thrilling culmination.

Ah, I never tire of watching or hearing birds flush.

In addition to pigeons, we use bobwhite quail to train dogs. Four recall pens called Johnny houses are placed strategically around the pastures—near wood edges and clearings. In early July, I buy 12-week-old bobwhites and put about 35 in each Johnny house. They come to know their terrain and learn how to covey up just like wild birds. And by the end of the season, the birds are incredibly strong flyers.

Recently I visited all four Johnny houses to feed, water and check on the quail. I also opened wide the release door to let the birds out.

This video shows bobwhites flushing from each house. Enjoy!

Northwoods Birds Dogs    53370 Duxbury Road, Sandstone, Minnesota 55072
Jerry: 651-492-7312     |      Betsy: 651-769-3159     |           |      Directions
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