In the last blog I talked about food sources, both native and man-made (food plots) and considerations to take into account regarding lay out on your property. Establishing food sources in the wrong spots on your property can negatively affect the "huntability" of your property and overall not be of a great benefit to the wildlife on your property. Food sources need to be located close to quality Cover if you want them to be utilized fully. While some native food sources can also provide Cover, typically food plots do not make good Cover. What makes up quality Cover not only varies among wildlife species but can also vary depending on the time of the year. Cover can also inhibit the use of an area by some species and even "block" access to other habitat areas that might be utilized by a species. In the ideal world wildlife does not like to travel any farther than necessary to access food. A wild animal does not wander the area it lives in for strictly entertainment purposes. As I mentioned before a wild animal has only one goal in life.... live long enough to reproduce. Traveling "long" distances between Cover and food resources is both counterproductive in terms of requiring extra calories and exposing wildlife to increased predation risks. Obviously a few hundred yards is not a "long" distance for deer and even adult turkeys to move to acquire food, but for quail that leads to increased mortality rates. Ideally quail should be able to remain in Cover at all times in order to keep their chance of survival at the highest level.
Deer Cover can be a variety of things depending on the time of the year and predation risks. In Winter deer are typically found in areas with considerable brush and mature trees if available. The woody structure provides some degree of shelter from weather and browse provided by the trees and shrubs may possibly be the primary source of food, especially in times of deeper snow cover. In Spring that Cover can become more open and less woody in some respects. As bucks begin to grow a new set of antlers, they avoid areas where they can't easily navigate without running the soft new velvet on their antlers into vegetation that would damage it. Does on the other hand are looking for enough Cover to conceal newborn fawns whether that is dense stands of grass or just brushy areas. The key being that does prefer Cover that is adjacent to where they are feeding so that they do not have to leave the fawns unprotected for long. Once Spring green up occurs deer will take advantage of that fresh growth as a food source as well. In Summer deer may choose Cover that is even more open as the breezes can help keep them cool as well as lessen insect pressure. Fall finds deer likely moving back into thicker Cover as temperatures cool and hunting pressure (most likely their highest predation risk) increases.
Outside of nighttime roosts adult turkeys are probably the most adaptable to different Cover types. Roosting trees typically are not very dense to allow birds to fly up into the trees, many folks probably don't think about roosting trees as Cover. However, without suitable roosting trees you will likely not have a resident turkey population. During nesting season adult hens are going to look for enough brush, taller grass or other more permanent vegetative structure to hide nests. But more importantly nests need to be located in areas where newly hatched poults can quickly transition to good brood rearing Cover. Good brood rearing Cover provides concealment from overhead avian predators for poults while still being open enough on the ground level to allow poults to easily move. Hens also tend to prefer brooding Cover where they can see over the vegetation while looking for predators. Brood rearing cover should have plenty of forb species which will provide a direct food source in terms of the new plant growth as well as attracting insects which the poults feed heavily on. As a general rule outside of nesting season adult turkeys prefer a more open Cover situation where they can use their eyesight to their advantage in terms of predator detection.
Quail require the most Cover in order to survive. Let's face it quail have lots of predators, the more time they spend away from good Cover the higher the odds that they will NOT survive. Even in good habitat the majority of birds live less than 1 year. Cover for adult birds is typically moderately dense patches of forbs (growing or dormant) and brushy patches of woody vegetation, both of which provide a degree of protection from predators and as a food source. Hens prefer to build nests in clumps of grass from the previous growing season. Just like turkeys and maybe even more so, quail need nesting cover in and adjoining to brooding cover. Brooding cover is any vegetation that has a large percentage of forbs in its composition with bare ground liberally scattered amongst the forbs. Whereas hen turkeys prefer cover that they can see over the top of while poults are feeding, that does not come into play with quail. Quail prefer to walk from one cover type to another. Even large dense strips of say Switchgrass or cool season grass restrict easy movement by quail and they will favor other locations. If you cannot take a 50-cent piece and roll it across the ground a quail chick will not navigate it easily. How wildlife travels your landscape using Cover is very important to consider as well. How the Cover is interspersed among the food resources is an important consideration. Do you have Cover in close proximity to your food?
I think that good Cover is what separates a average property from a great property. Properties without good Cover do not have quail; and turkey and deer usage maybe extremely limited to only a short period of daylight activity while they are feeding.
On Maple Hill Farm our Cover currently is mostly found in timbered areas, some woody/brushy fence lines and a small patch of a pollinator mix that was planted in 2023. Going into 2024 we will be focusing on converting more of our cool season grass areas into NWSG with a high percentage of forbs. We will also be planting some brushy thickets in the newly renovated areas. Long term the plan is to eliminate as much cool season grass as possible and convert those areas into NWSG/ forb blends. Within the timbered areas we continue to reduce the number of "trash trees" in efforts to open up the canopy allowing more sunlight to reach the ground and stimulate new forb and desirable tree seedling growth. Added sunlight will increase the amount of shrubby vegetation within the timbered areas as well. The areas outlined in yellow will be the renovated grass areas in 2024. The blue area will be renovated in coming years. The brown shapes within the yellow are areas that will be planted with shrubs to form thickets. Notice how the conversion areas are located where they will not affect the huntability of the land and are constructed in a way as to be fully usable by all wildlife species that we are managing
for on our farm.
In the next blog we wrap up habitat plan considerations by discussing water features and things to consider when locating your deer hunting stand locations. As well as covering the final habitat plan for Maple Hill Farm.