Freebird

Diverse Grassland Habitat

Published on: Jul. 11, 2012

In my younger days, I listened to a rock band, made famous in part by the classic song "Freebird." A verse in the song states, “And this bird you cannot change.” Evidently it was referring to the bobwhite quail, which for all intents and purposes has not changed. And, no matter how hard we want it to, it will not and cannot change.

Studies conducted as far back as 90 years ago documented the positive response of quail populations to the disturbance of vegetation. Some of those disturbances include the “the plow, match, axe and cow.” These tools, used properly, can mimic what prehistorically provided quail habitat: high-impact grazing by large herds of bison, plus late summer and fall fires mainly started by Native Americans.

We have conducted a number of studies during the last 20 years that still support those older studies. Most recently we have a number of radio-collared quail on two conservation areas in Southwest Missouri. The radio collars allow our staff to follow movements of the birds and in many cases determine the fate of nests, broods or adults. Our aim is to determine if quail are using the habitat improvements on those areas. We are also looking to see if there are differences in overall productivity and survival between one area, which is primarily native prairie, and the other area, which has a mixture of agricultural fields, grazed pasture and native woodlands. For example, we can determine if they prefer shrubby cover equally on both study sites or not.

On area consisting of native prairie, we still have 18 birds radio-collared. Nineteen nests have been documented so far this summer. Seven nests have hatched, seven have been destroyed and six are still being incubated. All but one destroyed nest was ruined by predators such as snakes, mice and larger mammals. This roughly matches nest success studies from the 1950s and 1990s. The first nests hatched during Memorial Day weekend, which is about two weeks earlier than normal, but not unexpected. Past studies have documented quail hatching in Missouri from May up to October.

What is most revealing is that 98 percent of adult observations and 100 percent of brood observations on the native prairie area this spring and summer have been on patch-burn grazed native prairie. Whether during the time of the buffalo or today, in the time of the cow, when fire and grazing are judiciously applied to a grassland landscape it is good for “Mr. Bobwhite.” This bird has never changed--and I still listen to "Freebird."

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Comments

On July 25th, 2012 at 7:38pm Jerry Tracy said:

Hey Bill, I just got my latest email from the NBCI and they are talking about the very same thing that I suggested to you and that you told me you were working on. Sounds like there going to try to get the "grow native" idea some national exposure to educate farmers and ranchers about the benefits of NWSG in their grazing and haying practices. This could go a long way towards the return of suitable habitat on a very large scale. Lets hope the feds can see the light and if they do decide to provide emergency funding for grass/pasture restoration that they lean heavily towards NWSG. Time will tell I guess.

On July 17th, 2012 at 10:50pm whitew said:

Jerry, we are working on this as we speak. I have staff looking for some good examples of stockmen using natives which we can publicize. Great minds!!!

On July 17th, 2012 at 8:13am Jerry Tracy said:

Hey Bill, during these times of extended drought conditions like this year and even last year to a degree, wouldn't this be an excellant opportunity fo the MDC, the NRCS and other agencies both govt. and NGO's to get the word out about the benefits of planting NWSG? Seems like an excellant time to flood the airwaves and send out mailers touting the benefits of a diverse grazing plan and also its benefits to wildlife. I've not seen ANYTHING at all, heck even a news story on the local networks might do wonders. Just sayin'. We've got to hammer this topic home and make it a common topic at the local coffee shops, feed stores, ect.

On July 13th, 2012 at 4:30pm whitew said:

Dear Anonymous The majority of costs associated with elk restoration came from conservation-partner donations, such as from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Costs associated with any wildlife restoration project are an investment in the wildlife of the state. The money we are putting into habitat within the elk zone benefits a high number of species, including the quail that are coming back on Peck Ranch CA. We are definitely doing more each year for quail in the state, too. The Commission approved $500,000 in the FY 13 budget for CRP buffer practices and management. We have entered into an agreement with Quail Forever to put 3 quail biologists on the ground and just found out we have a grant to put 3 more biologists on the ground this summer. This and existing efforts are what keeps us in the top the states in the nation for amount of quail habitat put on the landscape. Regarding Elk and CWD, CWD was first detected in free-ranging deer in the fall of 2011 and has only been found in a five free-ranging deer in a small area of north-central Missouri. Our focus is to contain the spread of CWD from that limited area to other areas of the state and to reduce the prevalence of CWD in deer in that area. Our first group of elk was brought to Peck Ranch, in the southern part of the state, in May 2011, before CWD was found in free-ranging Missouri deer. The elk came from a CWD-free state (Kentucky) and all elk were tested for CWD using a live-animal test available for elk. We continue our elk restoration project because the limited cases of CWD found in free-ranging deer are in the opposite part of the state from where the elk are and pose little if any direct threat to the restored elk. Thanks for following the blog.

On July 13th, 2012 at 2:26pm whitew said:

Hey quail man, that is great news. Sometimes in this ozark border country it takes a few years for them to find your oasis. The reason the native wildflowers are so important is that they provide the diversity and structure that quail require. If they are managed they will have the bare ground we are always preaching about. Fescue does not supply this. They attract the insects for the chicks to feed on after hatching. Fescue does not supply this. And finally they provide food during the winter months that can stay about a deep snowfall...again fescue does not supply this. Your challenge will be to manage your fields to keep the bare ground and wildflowers in the mix. This could be through fall or winter burning or light disking. Continue to edgefeather a little bit every other year at a minimum. Keep up the good work and good luck!!

On July 13th, 2012 at 2:15pm quail Man said:

Dear Bill, I have been trying for 2 1/2 years to get quail on my land. I have planted wsg and forbs directed by the private land specialist. I started with 661 tires,old junk piles and lots of fescue. Half of my back field was made bare by the owners horses before. After getting the tires removed with the help of some inmates, I also have removed 11 truckloads of metal to the recycling center, I planted the wsg's and forbs after 2 burns and spraying. Guess what I heard today for the 1st time? Quail whistling in 3 different places. The first place was right at 1 of the 5 edge feathering places on the property. Its a great day in Gerald today as quail are whistling where I was told there was none. Thanks for everything, can you please explain why wildflower habitat is so important to quail because I am getting some wherever I get rid of fescue!

On July 12th, 2012 at 11:04am Jerry Tracy said:

Bill, I had all intentions of cutting hay of my 5 acres of BB and Indian grass mix this year but due to the extreme drought, I think I'm gonna have to hold off untill next year. Its a 5 or 6 year old stand that is extremely thick and it needs cut. Its only been burned once and that was last year. I've been hearing a few birds on the edge of the field and I also have alot of rabbits that seem to use it. I would like to start a patch burn/graze program on some other areas of little blue and sideoats that are needing thinned a bit too but there's a lot of fence that will need to be built first.

On July 11th, 2012 at 8:40pm Anonymous said:

How much quail habitat could have been improved if the millions had not been wasted on the elk? With CWD known to be in wild deer now, why did MDC continue with elk stocking?

On July 11th, 2012 at 12:23pm whitew said:

Anonymous, I don't think you lost your P & K as it does not volatilize like nitrogen does. I am presuming you did not incorporate it into the soil? It does not take much rain to get it to melt away into the soil surface because it is pretty soluble. Once it is applied the primary way you remove it from the field is by removing biomass off the field. So, it should still be where you applied it. If the sparse rains did not get it into the root zone this year, it will eventually get there and benefit the plants next season. Unless your planting was for forage production purposes I think it will be fine. It it was for forage production, it may just take an extra year for the stand to develop to the density and vigor you want for producing something harvestable.

On July 11th, 2012 at 12:03pm Anonymous said:

Mr Bill What is your thoughts on fertilizing WSG that was planted in mid june. This yr its been very dry and very little rain. I know its the growing season for WSG and with all the weeds and CSG eradicated from the sprayings was it a smart move or did I lose the P/K that was applied according to the soil test. Thanks
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