Habitat Improvement for Wildlife

Every animal must live somewhere, but all animals cannot live everywhere. Each species of animal needs a particular environment in which to live and landowners must be aware of those things in that environment that wildlife need to survive and reproduce. Landowners and resource managers should be cautious when considering alterations to wildlife habitat; when you alter the habitat of one species, you enhance or affect the habitat of another. From a long term perspective, management practices do not destroy ecosystems; they only temporarily modify them and change the assemblage of species comprising the ecosystem.

As with humans, wild animals have specific requirements that their habitat must provide, including food and water for nourishment, cover from weather and predators, space to gather food in and attract mates, and safe corridors between habitats. Factors that affect wildlife basically fall into two categories: 1) “welfare factors,” those factors that contribute to the well-being of an animal, and 2) “decimating factors,” those factors that contribute to the demise of an animal. This section is concerned mainly with welfare factors (i.e., food, cover, water, space, and corridors).

Food for Wildlife

Obviously, wildlife must have food to survive. Nutrition affects birth and death rates and is important in the overall survival of any wild animal population. Food provides for growth, maintenance of body processes, and reproduction.

Wildlife with proper nutrition and thus good condition will have higher reproduction rates, be more resistant to disease, and will be better able to escape predators.

Diet selection in wild animals is driven by the quantity and quality of food available. What foods are eaten is determined by a number of factors, among which are: 1) what is present, 2) what is available (food items may be present but not located in a usable location), 3) what is needed physiologically by the consumer, and 4) the habits of the species, including skills in locating food items. The animal's adaptations to a type of food in turn affect the physiology and habits of the animal.

Depending on their food habits, wildlife are classified as carnivorous (eat meat), herbivorous (eat only plants), or omnivorous (eat a variety of plant and animal food items). Thus, having a variety of wildlife species will require a variety of food types to meet the food needs of the desired species.

For carnivorous, predatory animals, food availability means prey availability. Predators generally do not experience problems with diet quality because most animal matter is nutritionally complete and easy to digest. Even though carnivores expend a large amount of energy in searching for, chasing, capturing, and killing their food, this expenditure of energy is offset by the high nutrient content of animal matter.

Herbivores can become stressed from either lack of food (quantity) or by a shortage of nutritious foods (quality).

Therefore herbivores do not feed randomly in the environment. They exhibit food preferences which can be summarized as:

  1. preferred foods utilized first and for as long as they remain available; generally are nutritious;
  2. staple foods will maintain body weight and are highly nutritious;
  3. emergency foods will not maintain body weight and vitality over prolonged periods of time; and,
  4. “stuffer” foods consumed for bulk only, no nutritional value.

Food quality and palatability may vary substantially depending upon:

  1. presence or absence of toxins which are avoided by experience;
  2. seasonal changes in chemical and physical composition;
  3. geographical variations of forage species; and,
  4. intraspecific differences between plants.

Both availability and quality of food are important factors in wildlife nutrition. Animals can become malnourished (lack of food quality) if the wrong foods are present or starved (lack of quantity) if food is unavailable due to covering by sleet or snow, characteristics of the plants (food is too high in a bush or tree), topographic features such as cliffs or rivers, and artificial features such as highways. Supplemental feeding of wildlife often is not economically feasible nor biologically desirable. Management efforts should concentrate on providing appropriate natural foods in sufficient quantities where they can be utilized.

Use of Food Plots

Before deciding to use food plots to enhance wildlife, one should determine whether food is a limiting factor. If not, planting food plots may have no effect. Also, other animals (e.g., deer) may eat the food plot before the desired objectives are achieved. A publication entitled “Successful Wildlife Plantings” available from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries provides recommendations pertaining to food as a limiting factor and wildlife food plots. There are many ways to provide food through natural vegetation management. You should weigh the cost of food plots vs. vegetation management.

Cover

Cover is that part of an animal's environment, usually some type of protective habitat, that enhances the survival or reproduction of the animal. One or more types of cover are necessary for an animal to survive, such as breeding, nesting, hiding, loafing, sleeping, feeding, or traveling cover. Depending upon the species and the circumstances, cover may be provided by plants, geomorphic structures, or topographical features. Brushy fence rows and hedgerows are examples of areas that provide cover for wildlife.

Providing cover for wildlife is not without problems because creating cover for one species may limit the desirable cover for another species. If a landowner removes or changes the amount or type of cover available, the local population of animals may suffer. When manipulating the forest environment, the manager must consider vertical (layers within a habitat) as well as horizontal (e.g. distance between and placing side by side of cover types) spatial arrangements of cover.

Thus, the natural resource manager must understand the cover needs of various species or groups of species within the management unit in order to protect and enhance existing cover.

Water

Animals require water for several reasons: digestion and metabolism, reducing body temperature, and removal of metabolic wastes. Most wildlife can survive a week without food but only days without water.

Animals that require drinking water must have a permanent source or they will abandon the site. Water is seldom a limiting factor for the more mobile terrestrial wildlife species, but some species are restricted in their distribution because of their dependence on water for feeding, locomotion, protection, or breeding.

To keep wildlife on the property year round, landowners should provide a water source. A rule of thumb guideline would be to provide permanent water sources no more than one half mile apart. Another important management objective is to keep the watershed (all the area drained by a creek, stream, or river) protected and intact.

Space

Each wildlife species requires a certain amount of space to move about, avoid or escape potential predators, locate a mate, obtain sufficient food and water for survival, and rest. This space is often referred to as the home range of an animal. Home range sizes vary considerably (e.g from salamanders to large carnivores), but the amount of space required is largely determined by the quantity and quality of food, cover, and water found in an area. Other factors affecting space needs are:

  1. size of an animal (larger animals need more space, but are often generalists that can live in a variety of habitats);
  2. dietary preferences (carnivores need more space than herbivores);
  3. how well the animal can withstand crowded conditions. Space requirements (as a function of habitat quality and quantity) essentially determine the carrying capacity, i.e. number of animals the site will support, of the site for wildlife.

Carrying capacity may be increased by enhancing the quantity and quality of the wildlife habitat components.

Spatial Heterogeneity

The spatial relationship of welfare factors and their relative abundance largely determines which wildlife species can survive in a given area and in what numbers. Within any area, food, water, or cover may be unused because they are too far from the customary travel lanes of animals in the area. Ecotones, more commonly called edges, are important to wildlife because the boundary between two adjoining habitats contains components of each type and can thus satisfy the needs of a greater diversity of wildlife species than any one habitat type alone can. Some wildlife species live only within the edge, others live both in the edge and the adjoining habitat (e.g., bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbit, white-tailed deer), while others live exclusively within the interior of a particular habitat type (e.g., forest interior species).

Maximizing edge and increasing horizontal diversity usually will increase the number of species present. However, not all species benefit from an increase in edge. Species dependent upon large, unbroken tracts of habitat (e.g., some species of migratory birds) may decline as habitats are bisected or segmented into smaller discrete units in an effort to produce more edge. Therefore, landowners must clearly state their management objectives and be made aware of the consequences of their actions.

There are two types of edge, inherent edge and induced edge. Inherent edge occurs as a result of natural features of a site, such as soil, water, and topography. These edges are long lasting, relatively stable features of the landscape. They can be changed rapidly by some catastrophic occurrence or slowly by processes such as erosion. Induced edges exist where two different successional stages abut, and may be created by fire, wind, logging, planting and seeding, and other disturbances. Induced edges are typically short lived phenomena, lasting only a few years or decades before blending into the landscape. There is, obviously, enormous scope for creating induced edge, but potential consequences on wildlife must be considered prior to creating edge.

Keep in mind: an increase in edge may not be beneficial to all wildlife. For example, forest interior species do not benefit from more edge. Predation and parasitism, particularly of songbirds, typically are greater in edge. Therefore, edge sometimes has been called an ecological trap. Further, an improvement in the welfare factors provided by an increase in edge may stimulate population growth of selected species, such as deer. Should population growth exceed the capability of the habitat to satisfy food demands, a substantial reduction in health and natural regeneration of shrubs, trees, and other herbaceous cover may result.

Another way to increase horizontal diversity is through interspersion, or the intermixing of different habitat types or plant communities. The chances of satisfying all of an animal's requirements (food, cover, and water) are improved in areas with several different habitats close by. It is analogous to a puzzle, where all the pieces must be present and in the proper order for the puzzle to be complete. The greater the mix of habitat types, the greater the tendency for wildlife to be more abundant. Two or more habitat types needed by a species in close proximity often are desirable to minimize energy loss and reduce exposure to predators.

Dissimilar habitats, if arranged properly (e.g., food adjacent to cover; nesting cover adjacent to brood feeding areas) tend to support more wildlife.

Habitat types of value to wildlife must be accessible via connections, or corridors.

Corridors are effective if they protect known travel routes, follow areas of least resistance to movement, and connect seeps, springs, and riparian areas.

Corridors are needed between habitat types so animals can move between them without excessive predation.

Vertical Diversity

Vertical diversity is equally as important as horizontal diversity. The arrangement of plants into different layers, including ground (grasses/forbes), understory (shrubs and young trees), and canopy (mature trees), is related to the successional stage of the habitat or plant community. Wildlife diversity usually is associated with the number and density of vertical layers present.

Habitat Management Practices for Forested Areas

Clearcutting

Clearcutting allows sunlight to reach the ground allowing growth of herbaceous plants which are important to some species. Clearcuts should be kept fairly small, 10 to 40 acres, depending on management objectives. If edge is important for the desired species then clearcuts should be long, narrow, and irregular in shape to take advantage of natural contours.

Selection Cutting

Selected trees should be overmature, poor mast-producers, or have no value as a cavity/den tree. Select only trees that are more than 16 inches dbh (diameter breast high). By allowing more sunlight to reach the forest floor, selection cuts promote growth of understory plants and release overtopped young trees. During this operation you should guard against having your stand highgraded.

Thinning

Mast is important in helping numerous wildlife species survive the winter. Thinning around mast-producing trees can boost mast production. Thinning operations should be less than 35 acres and scattered evenly throughout the forest. Over a two to three year period, mark the best mast-producing trees during the fall when mast is present. Non-producing trees can be removed or girdled. Do not remove oak species that are not bearing during the current year but that might bear in succeeding years. Some oak species only produce well on alternate years. Thinning operations should maintain a balance of red and white oak species in the stand to ensure that a failure to produce acorns by one species will not result in a complete failure of mast production during a particular year. You should also maintain a variety of all mast trees including hickory, blackgum, dogwood, holly, red cedar, etc.

Pine Conversion

Forested areas that have poor soil fertility can be planted to white or loblolly pine. South-facing slopes are ideal for creating evergreen stands because these areas receive the most sun, and the trees protect wildlife from snow and winter winds. Pine conversions should be developed on sites too poor to grow quality hardwood. Extensive tracts of pines do not produce optimal habitat conditions for wildlife. Habitat diversity develops wildlife diversity.

Leave Areas of Older Trees

When harvesting timber from any appreciable acreage, leave some areas with good mast-producing trees. This will ensure a dependable food source for many wildlife species while forest regeneration is occurring. Often these leave areas can be buffer strips along stream or drainage corridors where harvesting should be limited to protect water quality. You can also leave 50-100 yd. buffer areas to break up extensive clearcuts to provide food and travel corridors.

Maintenance of Cavity Trees

Snags and/or “wolf trees” with cavities should be left standing during and after any timber harvest. These trees provide nesting, foraging, and winter cover for a variety of wildlife species. Standing snags do not hurt forest regeneration, and they provide an important habitat component of the future young timber stand. If you must remove some snags or wolf trees, leave the largest sound trees with existing cavities. When possible, six to eight large well-spaced cavity trees per acre should be left standing in any timber harvest.

Woody Debris Management

During a timber harvest, hollow logs, tree tops, and limbs remain after the removal of the merchantable timber. A patchy distribution of limbs and tree tops in piles or short rows provides habitat for a variety of wildlife species. Logging debris can be “windrowed” and left along the outer edges of the cut. Do not leave debris in or near stream or drainage area. On slopes, orient the logs along the contours and place them near stumps if possible. This reduces runoff and siltation problems and provides drumming logs for ruffed grouse.

Log Landings/Skid Trails

Log landings and skid trails should be seeded with a mixture of legumes or grasses-legumes to provide brood habitat and feeding areas for wildlife. These permanent, grass-legume woodland openings can be maintained by controlled burns, selective herbicide application, bush-hogging, or manual removal of woody material once every five years.

Maintaining Soft Mast

Species like dogwood, wild grape vines, black cherry, greenbriers, and sassafras should not be removed during a timber harvest or during site preparation. Soft mast-producing trees, shrubs, and vines are very important food sources for many forest wildlife species. Maintaining plenty of good soft mast producers within any timber stand is essential for ruffed grouse and a variety of other wildlife species.

Stream, Creek, and Drainage Management

Riparian zones are lands adjacent to streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands. They are highly productive ecosystems because they receive nutrients, water, and energy from the adjacent uplands.

They are important habitats for wildlife because the vegetation is unique and diverse. Riparian zones tend to be linear and provide travel corridors between other habitat types. Riparian zones are vitally important for fish because the overhanging vegetation provides cover, and the shade prevents extreme temperature fluctuations harmful to aquatic organisms. The streamside vegetation also provides food when insects fall in the water. Leaf material aids in maintaining aquatic insects. Special riparian areas that contain older trees, wetlands, threatened or endangered species, or unique scenic values should be considered for management on a case-by-case basis. The following general recommendations are based on stream size.

Buffer zones should be created within 100 feet of a stream. No more than 50% of the timber volume should be removed per ten-year period. Trees along seasonal or intermittent drainages should be maintained. The number of stream crossings for roads should be minimized and kept as narrow as possible. Seeding roadsides and ditches within the buffer zone is recommended.

Woodland Openings

Openings in extensively forested areas may benefit certain wildlife species. Forest openings should be no smaller than one-quarter acre nor larger than ten acres. These openings are best designed in irregular shapes to create maximum edge. Long linear openings should be 50 to 200 feet wide by as long as possible.

These woodland openings can be planted to a grass-legume mixture and maintained as permanent openings or simply allowed to revert to forest. If you wish to maintain them in permanent openings, you may have to disc, hand cut, or use herbicides every few years to prevent wood encroachment.

Woodland Ponds

Small woodland ponds, approximately 30 to 40 feet across and with varying depths, can be created in log landings or small clearcut areas to provide habitat for numerous frogs, toads, and salamanders. They will also be used by deer, turkey, and other species of wildlife. Ponds should vary in depth from several inches to four or five feet deep. Brush can be placed in the shallow end to create habitat for amphibians and invertebrates. The perimeter around these ponds, with no steep embankments, should be seeded to a grass-legume mixture. Contact the SCS, DGIF and Extension Service for ideas and technical guidance on building ponds.

Creation of Artificial Nesting Sites

Many species of wildlife depend on hollow trees or trees with cavities for their nesting and wintering habitat. All too often these are the first trees to be cut for firewood by the unknowing landowner or as part of timber stand improvement practices. On many farms, the forests and woodlots have been cut several times, leaving young woods with few den trees. In these areas nest boxes can increase the carrying capacity for cavity-nesting wildlife. There is evidence that bird, squirrel, raccoon, and wood duck populations can be increased locally by the erection of artificial nest boxes in woodlots where natural cavities are scarce. Cavity trees suitable for wildlife should exist at a rate of no less than 6 to 8 per acre. If you survey your woodlot and find less than this number, you can supplement natural cavities with artificial nest boxes. A squirrel box may have screech owls, kestrels, deer mice, flying squirrels, gray squirrels, or fox squirrels using the box within a few years time. Because many predatory animals are attracted to these sites, all nest structures should have a predator guard for the nest box.

Habitat Management Practices for Agricultural Areas

A major problem facing “small game” is the lack of suitable reproductive and winter cover. The use of heavy, sod-producing grasses, such as KY 31 tall fescue, has almost eliminated this type of cover. Good management for small game makes use of techniques that disturb the soil on a frequent basis (every three to five years). Several methods to create soil disturbances beneficial to small game are described below.

Fallow Fielding and Crop Rotation

One way to create small game cover is to incorporate a crop-rotation practice which will let recently cropped lands lie idle for a period of time. A crop-rotation pattern, such as corn, winter wheat, soybeans, hairy vetch (two years) back to corn, will produce good results. Another good crop-rotation pattern might be corn, winter wheat, and a legume (two years). You might also consider a rotation of corn or milo followed by three years of fallow field back to the row crop. Whatever crops you plant, including a year or two of fallow fielding or legume cover in the rotation will benefit many wildlife species.

Strip Disking or Plowing

In less intensive agricultural situations (like an oldfield pasture or abandoned area), soil disturbance must be created specifically for small game. Strip disking or plowing, where the ground is simply plowed or disked and left alone, is often done for this purpose. Strip disking/plowing should be done in long linear strips 30 to 50 feet wide by as long as possible next to or paralleling brushy or woody escape cover. The disturbed area should be left fallow for three years following the disking. Usually after three years the vegetation will become too thick for small game to use. Weedy species such as foxtail, ragweed, partridge pea, Korean lespedeza, and others will volunteer in these fields. These are heavy seed-producing plants which provide a high energy food source for wildlife.

Any of the above soil-disturbance or fallow-fielding techniques can be enhanced further by overseeding a legume such as Korean lespedeza or ladino clover. This should be done the winter following the creation of the food plot or field. Legumes attract large numbers of insects which are essential food items for young birds during their first two or three weeks of life.

Mowing Hayland

Many game bird nests, young birds, and deer fawns are lost each spring because of farmers mowing hay or bush-hogging fields. If possible, avoid mowing or clearing thick, bushy areas from April through early August. Late March and early April or mid-August and September are the best times to mow. Mowing at these times allows for sufficient plant growth to provide nesting or winter cover. If work is planned for a hayland or weedy area, it is best to clear it before the nesting season (keeps hens from nesting there). If hay must be cut during the nesting season, drive a tractor around the field 40 to 50 yards from the edge to see if any hens flush. If nests or young deer are suspected, leave as much tall vegetation around the area as possible. Turkey hens may abandon a nest if it is disturbed one time. Subsequent disturbances almost guarantee an abandoned nest.

In areas where fields are to be maintained as open areas without grazing or haying, strip mowing or mowing in a mosaic pattern can increase habitat diversity for small game. Strip mowing should be done in long linear strips 30 to 50 feet wide by as long as possible. Using a mosaic technique involves mowing small patches in an irregular pattern. These mowing methods will maintain portions of fields in herbaceous vegetation while allowing clumps of blackberry, buckbrush, and tree seedlings to develop. These clumps will need to be mowed to regenerate themselves when it looks as if the saplings and shrubs will soon get too big for your tractor and mower.

Fire and Controlled Burning

Done correctly, burning on a periodic basis can improve the value of grass and brushland habitats for wildlife. Fire improves the quality of the habitat by removing accumulated dead plant material and litter that impede wildlife movement. Fire encourages the growth of valuable seed-producing weeds and succulent, broadleaf forbs and stimulates legume germination through scarification (the breakdown of the tough seed coat surface) of the seed. Fire management also releases nutrients that create lush herbaceous growth necessary for high insect production. BE CAREFUL. Not only is fire dangerous, but it does more harm than good if burns are done incorrectly or at the wrong time. While the role of fire in small game management has become accepted and well used in the southern coastal plains and prairie states, in Virginia the use of fire for habitat manipulation is rare and not well understood. Small controlled burns are recommended for areas too steep for tillage or mowing. The burns will set back woody vegetation and stimulate herbaceous vegetation. Burns should be kept small and controlled with fire breaks plowed around the perimeters. Slow burns into the wind ignited during February are best. Always have enough people on hand at a burn to guard the fire break perimeters against fire jumping the break. More information on fire management can be obtained by contacting the County Forester or a game biologist.

Fencerow/Hedgerow and Travel Corridors

The easiest way to provide escape cover and travel corridors for small game is the creation of shrubby fencerow/travel lane habitat. This type of habitat can be created through mowing practices or by planting soft mast-producing shrubs. This type of habitat can also be created next to forest lands to increase the amount of edge present. Hedgerow habitat should be 30 to 45 feet wide to provide travel corridors and resting areas for small game. Narrow fencerows (15 feet wide) have little protective value when they divide clean agricultural fields.

Hedgerow habitat can be created by not mowing or tilling the area adjacent to fences on a yearly basis. Briars and tree seedlings will naturally establish themselves along this border. Once these areas have become established, they can be placed in a rotational mowing or burning pattern so they are controlled and do not become too large for the equipment available for the mowing. Existing hedgerows can be thinned by cutting the large trees for firewood to encourage dense shrub growth. In any particular field, one-quarter of the fence line might be treated in any one year. This type of habitat can be created without a fence at all, or it may be created by moving a mower's width away from an actual fence to allow for easier fence maintenance.

If shrubs and trees are to be planted in a fencerow, clumpy growth species like sumac, wild plum, bicolor lespedeza, gray and silky dogwoods, crab apples, hawthorns, chokecherry, white ash, and sassafras should be used. They should be plated in dense clumps. These shrubby clumps will provide good winter food and escape cover.

Root Pruning

A highly recommended management practice to maintain shrubby fencerow or hedgerow habitat is pruning the roots of these plants along crop field edges. An incredible amount of fencerow/hedgerow habitat has been destroyed in recent years. The general belief has been that shading by trees at crop field edges results in poor crop production along these edges. The reason crops are dwarfed at the edges of these fields is due to competition for water and soil nutrients between the crops and the hedgerow vegetation.

The effects of the hedgerow on crops can be eliminated by using a root plow to prune the lateral roots of hedgerow vegetation. Root pruning will result in increased crop yields while not affecting the hardiness of the hedgerow vegetation.

Root pruning uses a root plow (single shank ripper) that will cut to a depth of 24 inches and generally about 15 feet from the center of the fencerow or one foot toward the field from the drip-line of the trees. Root pruning can be done any time of the year so the work can be scheduled into farming plans according to available time. Pruning should be done every three to four years in Virginia, depending on the tree and shrub species present, soil types, and general growing conditions. WARNING. Root pruning involves working the soil deep enough that underground utility cables or pipelines could be destroyed. Be sure to check the area for such obstacles before starting a root-pruning operation. It would be wise to contact your local utility companies before beginning this operation.

Development of Roadside and Ditch Habitat

Roadsides and ditch banks can become important travel corridors for many wildlife species. Roadsides and ditches should not be mowed every year if possible. Mowing should be done on a three- to five-year rotation. These areas can also be planted to native grasses and wildflowers or shrubs which increase their value to wildlife.

Development of Odd Areas

On most farms there are unused corners in fields or gullies that can be developed and maintained in brushy or woody cover. Gullies, steep hillsides, and rock outcroppings should be allowed to naturally regenerate into brushy areas. These areas may also be allowed to regenerate into forest. Natural succession can be advanced by planting dogwoods, hawthorns, sumac, crab apples, wild plums, or chokecherry shrubs.

Fall Plowing: Why Not?

A common problem for many farm wildlife species is the lack of adequate later winter food and cover. Fall plowing has become commonplace in Virginia and contributes to the problem of inadequate winter food and cover. By plowing under crop residues in the fall, the landowner creates an essentially barren piece of land. There is a tremendous amount of seed available to wildlife in harvested fields. This seed comes from the harvested grain and native plants. With mechanized harvesting as much as 5 to 10 percent of the crop may be left in the field. Any waste grains that would be available for wildlife are lost as they are incorporated into the soil. The crop residues that may have provided some cover are also lost as they are turned under the soil. The practice is detrimental to wildlife and contributes to soil erosion.

Farmers who fall plow erroneously believe that they are saving time and money by getting the soil worked in the fall for the following spring's planting. Studies have shown this practice costs the farmer in both effort and money. By plowing under the crop residue in the fall, many of the nutrients released by decomposing plant materials are leached from the soils before the next crops are able to use them. This results in increased fertilization needs for the spring crops. Fall-plowed soils are also susceptible to erosion, losing valuable layers of the fertile topsoil.

Finally, over the winter the soils become compacted enough so they must be disturbed before planting, increasing time, labor, and fuel costs for the farmer.

Wildlife, the farmer, and the environment in general would greatly benefit if fall plowing was discontinued.

Development of Grassland Borders

Leave a 25- to 50-foot strip of unmowed grassland along a field or forest edge for nesting, particularly near brushy cover. Maintain this cover by mowing every three to five years. If it is not possible to leave the strip unmowed, mowing should be delayed until August when most nesting has been completed. If grassland habitat is not present along field borders or adjacent to strip-disked areas or food plots, 25- to 50-foot grassland strips can be planted using a mixture of big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass, and switchgrass.

Development of Nesting Cover

Often times nesting cover is a limiting factor for small game. Nesting cover should be developed next to wood or brushy cover. Nesting cover must be wide enough to be safe from predators.

Thus, nesting cover should be developed in patches, not strips. A 200 x 200 foot square (acre) of nesting cover is more difficult for a fox or skunk to hunt in than is a 20 x 2,000 foot long, narrow strip.

A variety of mixtures can be planted for nesting cover. A mixture of switchgrass, ladino clover, and Korean lespedeza will provide adequate nesting and brood-rearing cover. If you plan on grazing or mowing the stand after the birds have raised their brood, a mixture of switchgrass, big bluestem, and indiangrass will provide good cover. Another suitable mixture is orchard grass, ladino clover, and Korean lespedeza. This mixture provides fair nesting cover but doubles as a deer or turkey food plot.