January 2014
Outdoor Life

Manage Wildlife Openings for More Than Deer

  Plantings such as sorghum can benefit multiple wildlife species. (Credit: Agrilife Today)

A majority of wildlife openings in Alabama are developed to benefit or attract white-tail deer. However, the benefits are much broader and many other species can and may already benefit from managing those openings throughout the year. Other game species such as Northern bobwhite or wild turkey can greatly benefit from wildlife openings as well as songbirds, rabbits and many non-game species.

Deciding on what and when to plant for deer can be important for attracting additional species. One grain that can be beneficial for deer, quail, turkey and a host of other species is Egyptian wheat. Planting Egyptian wheat in the spring and summer months can provide a great food source for quail during the fall and late winter. Fall-planted wheat may be beneficial to turkeys in the fall and winter, and may also provide needed cover for quail during the summer breeding season. Other foods that can be beneficial for deer, quail and other species include grain sorghum and corn that provide food in the fall and winter months if planted in the spring or summer.

For a more cost-efficient planting, try browntop millet, which is commonly used in wildlife openings. Millet can be a great choice if you want to manage openings for mourning doves, while other species such as quail will also benefit from the planting. Millet, wheat or any other grains planted throughout the year can be beneficial for songbird species as well. During the summer months, field sparrows, indigo buntings and blue grosbeaks are just a few of the species you may encounter in those openings. The timing of plantings as well as the proportion of openings planted at a given time are both important factors to consider when attracting certain species.

It may be beneficial not to plant entire openings at once. If considering quail in your management plan, a good rule of thumb is to have 25 percent of an opening planted at any given time to provide beneficial food as well as cover for those birds. Maintaining a portion of the opening in fallow fields year-round can create important brood habitat for quail. This can be established by maintaining patches of annual weeds with species such as common ragweed and partridge pea among planted patches. These fallow fields provide overhead cover with bare ground for chicks to move around along with an abundance of insects. Planting strips while incorporating rotational disking can help provide good foraging areas with bare ground interspersed throughout.

Another way to manage wildlife openings for quail as well as rabbits and songbirds is to develop shrub thickets scattered among an opening or along the edges. Good species to include are blackberry, wild plum and wax myrtle. While providing escape cover for quail and rabbits, these thickets make good nesting habitat for other songbird species such as yellow-breasted chats.

Regardless of the primary reason for developing wildlife openings, it is important to realize, with proper management, those openings will provide needed habitat and food resources for several other species. Having a better understanding of the management options can enhance multiple species and increase our enjoyment in outdoor Alabama.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Carrie B. Threadgill is a wildlife biologist with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.