Shrubby Fencerows make good Neighbors

Wildlife habitat-the term brings to mind forests, river bottoms, prairies, openings, edges, cropfields and other rich, fertile environments. But, unless you're a hunter, you probably wouldn't think about fencerows.Hunters know that those narrow, overgrown strips bordering fields draw game like magnets. You could crisscross a 40-acre field and not spook a quail, rabbit, deer or squirrel. Scratch around the fencerow, though, and, comparatively speaking, you'll raise game like sparks from flint.

 If you have a shrubby fencerow on your property, the best thing you can do is to keep it intact. If you are a hobby farmer who would like more wildlife on your property, you can plan and plant fencerows. And even if you are just an urban homeowner with a yen for more wildlife in your yard, you can let a strip of your yard go wild.

When we're talking fencerows, by the way, we're not discussing strands of barbed wire or a stretch of stock fence with no grass beneath. A wildlife fencerow, which may or may not include an actual fence, is a natural border, a strip of forbs, shrubs and trees that can sometimes be too thick to walk through.

Fencerows are one of the most crucial habitats available to wildlife. These oases provide both shelter and food for a variety of animals, amphibians, reptiles and birds. Research tells us that fencerows are essential habitat to at least 18 species of vertebrates (critters with a backbone) and the preferred habitat of 76 other species.

Some of the more common wildlife associated with fencerows include fox squirrels, rabbits, woodchuck, red and gray fox, indigo buntings, cardinals, eastern bluebirds, red-headed woodpeckers, eastern screech owls, red tailed hawks, prairie king snakes, black rat snakes, five lined skinks and three-toed box turtles.

Most of these animals don't spend their entire lives in fencerows. Rather they use them as hiding, resting or feeding sites. If the cover is thick enough and the fencerow wide enough, they may also roost, bed or nest there.

In many cases, a fencerow is a sheltered connection between two larger areas of cover, a greenway that wildlife use for travel.

The attraction of a fencerow to wildlife varies according to the surrounding habitat, or lack of habitat. Fencerows draw more animals in heavily cropped or heavily grazed areas, because they provide the only available refuge and food.

On the other hand, fencerows in heavily forested areas that already contain plenty of woody and herbaceous