2010-03-18 / Community News

Establishing Cover for Small Game

Tall grasses can be used to enhance cover for species such as bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbit, sparrows, buntings, warblers, and other grassland species. Tall grasses and associated forbs (broadleaf herbaceous plants) are also used by wild turkeys for nesting and brood rearing and by white-tailed deer for bedding and escape cover. Tall grasses provide quality cover during winter if the grasses are not previously shredded or otherwise destroyed. Fields of tall grass are often magnets for rabbits, overwintering songbirds and deer. Tall grasses, such as big bluestem, little bluestem, broomsedge bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass, sideoats grama and eastern gamagrass are especially valuable as their stems remain somewhat upright, leaning against each other continuing to provide cover even after frost, wind and rain.

Management of tall grass fields is very important to prevent the fields from becoming too dense. Management techniques such as burning, grazing, selective discing and strip mowing can enhance the structural makeup of the grasses and forbs Because structural requirements vary among wildlife

species and among seasons, it is not recommended to set back succession on an entire field or on all fields in one year. Instead, fields should be burned or disced on a 2- to 4-year rotation or on a rotational grazing system that thins the grasses but does not remove the cover aspect of the field. An open area of tall grass structure allows mobility for small wildlife (e.g., quail, rabbits, sparrows and young turkeys) through the field but does not expose them to predators.

In non-native fields of developed and imported grasses such as Bermudas, Bahia, Klien and KR Bluestem the density of the grass typically becomes to too thick and inhibits movement which makes finding food difficult. The management of these grasses

to provide open mobility and tall cover is very difficult. If these grasses are burned, grazed, disced, mowed or thinned to allow mobility then you typically destroy the

height factor which is major

factor in providing shelter from predators. When these conditions prevail, the number of animals an area can support is reduced, leading to stagnant or declining populations.

If you really sit back and think about it, it should be apparent that if you want to manage for native wildlife species then native grasses species will be the most suitable habitat you can provide for them.

If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at; http:// www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ wildlifebiologist.

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