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Girl Scouts raise bobwhite quail to help prevent Lyme disease

Piper Altman, Claire Paetzel and Jennifer Olsen carefully held 26 newborn bobwhite quail Monday, fawning over the birds they’d grown to love after watching the eggs closely, waiting for them to hatch.

Seeing the quail hatch this weekend was an exciting milestone in the project the girls, all 11, along with 12-year-old Violet Johnson, have been working on to earn their Girl Scouts Silver Award.

“It was interesting to watch them hatch and see the way of life. Not all of them hatch; some are strong, some are weak — and you can see them grow and get all fluffy,” Piper said.

The girls, all Girl Scout cadettes from Mattituck Troop 1971, ordered more than 100 quail eggs and spent weeks raising them in an incubator at Feisty Acres Farm in Jamesport. They checked the temperature and humidity of the incubator daily — it must be between 98.5 and 100 degrees with about 60 percent humidity, which is raised to 70 percent for the three days before hatching — and said nice words to the eggs in order to spread kindness and encourage them to grow.

Thirty-three of the eggs had hatched by Wednesday morning.

“We named the ones that had the most personality,” Piper said.

Two of the newborn bobwhite quail the ‘Quail Scouts’ are helping to raise at Feisty Acres Farm in Jamesport.

The first chick to hatch was named Elvis, and one that had feathers sticking out of his shell while hatching was named Hairy. A third, which was born weak but grew stronger, was named Hercules.

The Girl Scouts said they chose bobwhite quail for two reasons: They are native to Long Island and their diet consists mainly of insects, especially ticks. The hope is that these quail will eat lots of ticks in the area, thereby helping to prevent the spread of Lyme disease.

Related story: Bobwhite to the rescue? Southold Town considers importing quail

Aware that Lyme disease is prevalent locally — each of them knows someone personally who has been affected — the girls chose that as the community problem they wanted to tackle in their Silver Award project.

The girls also created a social media video in an effort to raise awareness about Lyme disease.

“We also did the Lyme Challenge,” Piper said. “It’s ‘take a bite out of lime.’ It’s when you get an actual lime and bite into it and make a video and post it on social media.”

“You try to challenge others to do the same to raise awareness,” Claire said, adding that it mimics the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that gained popularity a few summers back.

Girl Scout Cadettes Jennifer Olsen (clockwise from left), Claire Paetzel, Violet Johnson and Piper Altman work on part of their Silver Award project, which focuses on raising bobwhite quail as a way to prevent Lyme disease.

On Monday afternoon, with help from Feisty Acres owner Abra Morawiec, the girls’ mentor, Piper, Claire and Jennifer each took a baby bird out of an incubator and placed it in a quail surrogator — a self-contained unit that allows the quail to adapt to their new environment safely way by providing food, water, warmth and protection.

“We didn’t even go online,” the girls said. “We learned everything from Abra.”

To help the birds adapt to their home, where they’ll spend the next four to five weeks, the Mattituck seventh-graders giggled as they guided each individual quail to the water source inside, called a nipple feeder, and then placed them under a heater by their food.

All four girls will visit Feisty Acres once a week to check on the birds, adjust the heat and document their progress before releasing them into the wild.

You can follow the rest of the girls’ Silver Award project on Instagram @QuailScouts. The project will culminate with the release of the quail at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, at Feisty Acres Farm.

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Top photo: Piper Altman (from left), Claire Paetzel and Jennifer Olsen, all 11, hold a quail that hatched over the weekend. The girls, along with 12-year-old Violet Johnson, are helping to raise bobwhite quail as part of their Girl Scout Cadettes Silver Award project, which focuses on eradicating Lyme disease.