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Snow Melt - Oh, What A Relief For Wildlife!

Feb 16, 2011

Just as I was scheming to put a posh ski resort on the steepest part of the lane down to my house, the snow just melted away. It most likely happened just in the nick of time for many species of wildlife.

While driving I-70 this week, I noticed an unusual number of road-killed hawks. The only places there wasn’t snow in central Missouri were on the highways and road shoulders. Those birds were attracted to road kills and the occasional mice and other wildlife foraging in the exposed grass. They were too focused on food to avoid the oncoming traffic.

Near Kansas City, I spied for the first time on my trip areas where snow had blown off portions of a crop field, and the turkeys were lined up scratching in the bared area for waste grain. There must have been at least 50 turkeys in that one field. Even turkeys have a hard time finding food when the snow depths are over 12 inches.

We had reports from all over the state about quail appearing after the blizzard left Missouri.

  • In Osage County a feed store reported a covey of quail in their parking lot picking up spilled grain.
  • In Columbia, a MOre Quail blog reader reported that near the State Farm Insurance Building a covey of quail was spotted on the street, next to about 10 acres of some good shrubby cover and native grass.
  • We had several calls at the office about quail coming to bird feeders or coming into a yard or driveway.

These reports are a good sign that the food those birds relied on was buried. They were hungry. And they were looking anywhere and everywhere for food.

Is there anything we can do to help the birds the next time we get a tough winter? North Missouri has a tough winter about once every four to five years on average, but someone forgot to tell the weatherman that the last three winters! South Missouri typically has some big storm events, but typically doesn’t have a real hard winter over an extended period of time. Again, someone forgot to remind the weatherman about that this year.

We typically do not recommend feeding quail during extreme weather because the constant bird activity around the grain will attract predators, too. Exposing the birds to increased predation is a waste of your time and grain. If you feel you must feed quail, throw the grain on bare ground under shrubby cover to protect them as much as possible from predation.

One popular practice that many Missourians implement is the planting of grain food plots. This has the potential to keep food above the deepest of Missouri snows--if it is done right. If deer are numerous in your neighborhood, you need a food plot that the deer will not clean out before winter sets in. It needs to be something like forage sorghum or pearl millet that deer will not bother as much as they might corn or milo. Many times beans will shatter out by late winter, and a deep snow will bury the seed. Another advantage of forage sorghum and millet is that they will provide protective cover to quail, rabbits, pheasants or songbirds.

For quail and songbirds, food plots should be placed next to shrubby cover, so they have less exposure to predators while travelling to the food plot. Try to avoid areas that drift full of snow. Now is a good time to figure out where drifting may occur on your land.

The best food plots are ones that you do not have to plant each year. Planting native wildflower mixes will also keep food above the snow for a variety of birds. It might be expensive the year you buy the seed, but you never have to plant it again, and it is deer-proof.

Now is the time to start planning to establish food plots this spring. Check out our website for all you need to know to establish winter food plots that are ”for the birds!” Check out the link on this page or enter the phrase “food plots” in our home page search bar.

bobwhite_covey_02-16-11.jpg

Bobwhite Covey in Food Plot
Food plots such as this soybean field can provide emergency food for quail and other wildlife during harsh winter weather.

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