Building Better Brood Habitat

My last post focused on the value of broadleaved weeds as brooding habitat. Not only do weedy patches create outstanding habitat for bugs and broods, but they’re also among the cheapest, most foolproof habitat you can provide.

Many landowners view weedy, fallow fields as idle and unproductive. The temptation is to mow them flat or spend money spraying them and planting something “useful.” I have to admit that at times my wildlife training runs afoul of the part of my upbringing that taught me to value straight rows, square corners and, for lack of a better word, “neatness.” I’m not quite sure what Mom would think of all this.

Nevertheless, tall, broadleaved weeds like ragweeds and pigweeds provide essential protection from predators and the hot sun and also host high densities of insects that quail need. They are already on your land, ready to respond to a number of simple management practices that reduce the dominance of grasses and let sunlight touch bare soil. Best of all, they’re nearly free to grow.

Grazing to set back dominant grasses is probably the most cost-effective method for encouraging quail-friendly weeds. A good method is to graze cool-season grasses intensely in early spring, then pull cattle out as these grasses stop growing for the summer, allowing the weeds already growing in the pasture an opportunity to jump up and provide some overhead cover. Disking to disturb the soil exposes weed seeds to conditions that are ideal for germination. If you lack livestock and tillage equipment, spraying glyphosate herbicide during the fall to kill fescue and other dominant grasses is another way to help assure a good crop of weeds, bugs and broods the following year.

Timing is important, too.  Annual broadleaved weeds germinate earlier than annual grasses. For example, giant ragweed, also known as horseweed, is already at least knee-high while the annual grasses are just starting to emerge. Management practices applied right now will benefit foxtail, crabgrass and fall panicum over broadleaved weeds. Patches of annual grasses aren’t bad, but they don’t provide as much essential bare ground as do patches of broadleaved weeds. As a result, it’s best to disturb some sites during the fall and late winter instead of creating all of your weedy brood-cover patches during late spring or early summer.

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