Last night, I walked the dog along the dusty trail to one small field. I found where a turkey had dusted itself; there was a small depression scratched into the dust with turkey tracks around it. Farther down the trail, I found where a rabbit had done the same in a shady yet dusty spot. And yet farther on down the trail, I found where quail had been dusting.
This reminded me once again of how important exposed soil is to wildlife, particularly birds:
- Many birds need access to grit or sand particles, which they swallow to aid digestion. Many people with chickens provide grit to their flock for that same purpose.
- Birds also will use bare soil to dust in for the purpose of deterring parasites such as chiggers, mites and lice.
- Quail need around 25 percent bare soil exposed in their habitats in order for chicks to move around, feed and stay out of the morning dew or rain-soaked vegetation. This bare ground also encourages a diversity of annual plants, which attracts the insects that quail chicks rely on and later produces seed for fall and winter.
That dusty trail reminded me of the year we had our basement walls repaired and during the process had small mounds of soil piled around the yard waiting for the concrete to cure before we backfilled in around the foundation. One early morning, my kids called me at the office with, "Your quail woke us up!" Evidently, two pairs of quail had come into the yard and were dusting on a mound of soil piled pretty darn close to the boys' bedroom window, and the birds started calling. Later that summer, a brood of quail showed up in the yard and could frequently be seen using an area of bare ground along a tile trench.
While my boys may not have appreciated a wake-up call from nature that morning, the birds appreciated the basement repairs and became known around our house as those "dirty little birds".