Creating Escape Cover

Nearly all animals need cover so they can escape from predators, rest in safety, nest, and raise their young. What constitutes suitable cover depends on the wildlife species. Some animals use hollow trees, while others use brushy areas and dense stands of grass. To several species of small mammals, ground-nesting birds, amphibians, and reptiles, downed woody cover represents an important type of habitat. Downed tree structures (DTS) and edge feathering bring the quickest response of all the management tools. Rabbits, quail, and many songbirds use DTS and edge feathering immediately after construction.

Downed Tree Structures

Downed tree structures (DTS) provide an immediate temporary source of woody cover in areas where shrubby cover is lacking. Achieve enduring cover benefits by incorporating shrub plantings. The location and quantity of shrubby cover can determine how much of an area will be available for use. By distributing DTS throughout large grassland fields, you can increase the amount of available habitat for quail.

Downed trees should not be pushed into dense brush piles. These structures are intended to be open to allow space for the movement of quail and other upland wildlife within the structure. Simply drag the downed trees to the desired location and place in a loose arrangement. Oak, hickory, cedar, and Osage orange make good DTS. Elm, cottonwood, and willow do not make good DTS since they tend to break down quickly and have less dense branching.

Create 0.1–1.0 acre of dense woody cover per 5–40 acres of wildlife-friendly habitat. Although wildlife will use woody escape cover as small as a tractor tire, larger patches receive great use, so you should strive to make DTS that measure 30 by 50 feet for a total of 1,500 square feet of habitat. It takes three DTS of this size to equal 0.1 acre.

  • Treat existing grass in the areas where the trees will be placed with an approved contact herbicide before cutting trees. This will create bare ground and provide good growing conditions for annual food plants and shrubs.
  • Choose a minimum of 8 well-branched, durable trees that are at least 20 feet tall (do not count the unbranched trunk) with a trunk approximately 10 inches wide at breast height.
  • Place DTS next to early-successional vegetation such as managed wildlifefriendly grasses/legumes/forbs, field borders, food plots, or cropland.
  • Do not place DTS next to a woody edge and space no more than 100 yards apart.

Edge Feathering

Edge feathering creates a transitional zone of woody escape cover made of downed trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous vegetation between cropland or grassland and the wooded edge. Create 0.1–1.0 acre of dense woody cover, 3–12 feet tall with bare ground underneath for every 5–40 acres of wildlife habitat. The minimum size of an area to renovate is 30 by 50 feet. It takes three, 30-by-50-foot areas to equal 0.1 acre. Ideally, 10–25 percent of wildlife habitat should consist of dense woody cover.

  • Pick at least a 30-by-50-foot area where you can cut all trees over 12 feet tall. Leave native shrubs like dogwood or plum if they are less than 12 feet tall. If the shrubs are greater than 12 feet tall, cut them off at ground level and DO NOT TREAT the stumps. Cutting down older stems will encourage new shoot growth.
  • Treat existing grass, especially sod-forming grasses such as tall fescue and smooth brome, with an approved contact herbicide before cutting trees. This will create bare ground and provide good growing conditions for annual food plants and shrubs. 
  • Cut down trees using only chainsaws or tree shears — no bulldozers. Leave trees where they fall or windrow them along the fence or woody draw. DO NOT push the trees into a dense pile.
  • Treat cut tree stumps with an appropriate herbicide to prevent re-sprouting. Do not treat Osage-orange tree stumps when renovating an old hedgerow.
  • Edge feather small sections at a time. Cut 50- to 100-foot-wide sections spaced out every 150 feet. Continue this process each year until the entire fence line or woody draw has been treated.

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