Nitpicking Habitat Management - Stop the "Dead Zone"

Published on: Jun. 16, 2009

I’m starting to think that some landowners might be genetically programmed to mow. Most landowners start recreational mowing in June or July during the peak of the bobwhite and pheasant nesting season. In a good conservation effort, landowners will often mow around a quail or turkey nest. Rarely do the birds return. Look at a recently mowed field and there are not many places for a covey to hide. It’s pretty easy to see why mowing entire fields is tough on wildlife, especially bobwhites. However, many people don’t realize that mowing field edges – creating a “dead zone” – is also bad for quail.

Mowing field edges creates a “dead zone” for quail. The “dead zone” destroys productive quail habitat, can kill quail, is waste of money, and promotes the growth of fescue and brome. This landowner should consider eliminating mowing, mowing a narrower path or moving the path out into the field. This field edge should be sprayed with glyphosate to eliminate tall fescue and then edge feathered. The “dead zone” often develops around the edges of fields next to good woody cover, fence rows or timber. I’ve even seen “dead zones” around food plots. Depending on the size of the mower and enthusiasm of the landowner, the “dead zone” is typically 20 to 60 feet wide. Usually the grass is mowed so short I can only imagine the amount of rocks and dirt kicked up by the mower.

The “dead zone” is bad news for quail. A well manicured “dead zone” can kill or deter quail any time of the year. During the spring and summer, mowing field edges can kill a devoted quail on the nest or even a fleeing brood of young birds. During the fall and winter, the mowed area will make quail vulnerable to predators as the covey moves back and forth from covey headquarters to either feeding or roosting sites. Conditions can be exaggerated during periods of ice and snow since cover is often degraded during these critical times. To make matters worse, the constant mowing of the “dead zone” will promote the growth of tall fescue and smooth brome which will eventually contaminate the adjacent woody cover and grass field, making your best quail habitat worthless. If that isn’t enough remember that quail rarely venture more than 70 feet from woody cover so mowing a “dead zone” destroys some of the most productive space for bobwhites.


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