Land Stewardship
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Land Stewardship

Habitat Manipulation Effects on Ground Dwelling Game Birds

Brush control and habitat management are important and effective ways to promote the sustainability and productivity of an ecosystem, but if conducted improperly or at the wrong time, certain species could be negatively impacted. Ranch managers and landowners need to take into account any and all variables prior to executing the appropriate management techniques. Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) are two species in Texas that could be negatively impacted by the timing and method of brush management, especially during their nesting and brooding seasons. Quail and turkey are two of the most popular game bird species in the state of Texas, and with proper knowledge and management practices, landowners can help these two species thrive. Shredding and mowing pastures for wildlife is a common practice in Texas, and when done properly can impact certain species in a positive way. Shredding in the month of February is used to promote forb growth, while midsummer shredding will promote native grass growth. Midsummer shredding is also less detrimental to ground dwelling birds during their nesting and brooding periods in late spring (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Wildlife and Fisheries Unit. “Shredding/Mowing for Wildlife Management in Texas”).

Turkey nests require standing vegetation surrounding them to conceal the nest location from predators.

Quail Nesting Information

Quail populations in Texas have been declining for many years; however, in recent years, the number of educational opportunities regarding quail have increased drastically due to statewide efforts to restore populations. For many landowners, the fact that quail numbers are down should be enough incentive to properly manage lands to benefit this species. The quail nesting season may last from mid-April to early October, with the peak nesting time frame in the months of June through August. Quail nest on the ground, generally in residual cover of perennial bunchgrasses, such as in south Texas where they have been observed nesting mostly in bluestems (Andropogon spp.), threeawns (Aristida spp.), and balsamscales (Elyonurus spp.) (Hernández et al. 2007). Hernández et al. 2007 also observed quail nesting in prickly pear cactus in the Rolling Plains region of the state. It has been documented that approximately 9% of quail nest failures are a result of farming, or some other type of human interaction in regards to habitat management (Hernández et al. 2007).

Shredding is a form of mechanical habitat manipulation that can have a positive or negative effect on wildlife.

Turkey Nesting Information

Rio Grande wild turkey are a prominent game bird species in the state of Texas, however, since the 1970’s, turkey numbers in Texas have been declining steadily. Although the cause for the decline has not been determined, it is believed that poor nesting success and poult survival due to factors such as land fragmentation could be contributing factors. The blogpost “Habitat Fragmentation Part 1: Patch Size and Connectivity”by James Cash can give you more information about fragmentation and its consequences. Nesting season for Rio Grande wild turkey runs from March to late April, and as stated before, it is imperative that any and all land management near a nesting site for a ground dwelling bird be completed well in advance of the nesting season. Prescribed fire is a useful tool in brush management, and could benefit turkey nesting if conducted early enough to allow plants to re-establish for nesting season. Turkey hens prefer ground vegetation to be at least 20–26 inches tall to conceal their nests from predators (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Wildlife and Fisheries Unit. “Managing Eastern Wild Turkey Nesting and Brooding Cover in Post Oak Woodlands”). Proper management of the habitat prior to nesting season can lead to increased nest success rates, and in turn increase the population size of turkeys in your area. Even the slightest amount of disturbance on a turkey nest site can “bump” the hen off of the nest, leading to potential re-nesting which seldom achieves as high of a success rate (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Wildlife and Fisheries Unit. “Nesting Requirements and Management for Eastern Wild Turkey”).

Prescribed fire is a useful brush management tool when used properly.

Land Management Recommendations

When managing habitat on your lands, there are many factors that must be considered before implementing various management practices. Different species on your property require different conditions to survive, and if done properly, multiple species can be managed for rather than just one singular species. For instance, quail nest sites and turkey nest sites require different amounts of cover, and the dispersion between nests is much different. More information on managing turkey nest sites can be found in the video “Managing Eastern Wild Turkey Nesting and Brooding Cover in Post Oak Woodlands” produced by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Wildlife and Fisheries Unit. For information regarding quail habitat management, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Wildlife and Fisheries Unit produced the video “Brush Sculpting to Improve Quail Habitat”. A good rule of thumb when considering the proper time after nesting season to mow or hay your pastures would be to wait until after July 1st for turkey habitat. Winter and early spring habitat management would be best for quail habitat in this regard. It is also recommended that mowing be done in strips or blocks that are hundreds of feet from the forest edge, rather than mowing the entire pasture, giving ground dwelling birds a place to escape predation.

Funding support provided by the Reversing the Quail Decline Initiative and the Upland Game Bird Stamp Fund, based on a collaborative effort by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Citations:

  1. Hernández, Fidel., Markus J. Peterson. 2007. Northern Bobwhite Ecology and Life History. Pages 46–47 in Leonard A. Brennan, editor, Texas Quails: Ecology and Management. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
  2. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Wildlife and Fisheries Unit. “Managing Eastern Wild Turkey Nesting and Brooding Cover in Post Oak Woodlands”. Online Video Clip. YouTube. 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 May 2015.
  3. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Wildlife and Fisheries Unit. “Nesting Requirements and Management for Eastern Wild Turkey”. Online Video Clip. YouTube. 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 May 2015.
  4. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Wildlife and Fisheries Unit. “Shredding/Mowing for Wildlife Management in Texas”. Online Video Clip. YouTube. 29 July 2013. Web. 28 May 2015.

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