Improve Cover and Nesting Habitat

When it comes to managing habitat for wild turkeys, the first thought that comes to mind is food plots. How much chufa, clover or other variety should I plant to increase turkeys on my property? As landowners and as conservationists, we also need to consider all elements: food, water, cover and space are the basic components to sustain healthy populations of wildlife on any property.
We often overlook cover, but it is essential for all wildlife. It provides a haven from weather, predators and even hunting pressure. Having areas of suitable cover for nesting hens leads to successful reproduction each year. Cover is vital for nesting birds as well as poult survival in the first few weeks up to a year.

Here are some simple ways to create suitable brood and nesting habitat on your property.

Location / Cover Type
Create diverse brood habitat to meet the needs of young birds at various stages while they are growing. Areas that provide various insect life as a food source, as well as cover from predators, are logging decks, abandoned fields, road sides, food plot edges and logging corridors. Look for these as a starting point.

Dense cover helps protect nesting hens from predators. Establishing nesting cover close to food and water sources allows hens to leave the nest daily and return without leaving too much of a footprint.

Establishing various types of native vegetation at different times of the year also helps poults survive by providing areas that are attractive to insects for food. You want to stimulate the growth of native vegetation, such as ragweed, partridge pea, blue stem or gamma grass. One technique to use is by fallow discing, or using a disc harrow and tractor to disc an entire field, food plot edge or logging corridor. Just one pass in late January or February with the disc harrow is usually enough.

Creating cover at different height levels is also beneficial as young birds mature. Mowing at certain times of the year can stimulate growth of beneficial native vegetation. Look to mow before or after nesting season, depending on your location. Consult with your state wildlife agency for specific dates regionally.

Plantlings and Prescribed Fire
A variety of companies provide seed blends native to the various habitat types across the U.S. It will take more work and increase cost to establish these areas, but planting native areas in conjunction with fallow discing and mowing can improve brood and nesting habitat on your property.

Prescribed fire will also promote great nesting and brood habitat for both wild turkeys and quail. Rotational burning every two to three years creates a variety of native vegetation. Conducting winter burns December to March helps control unwanted hardwood growth and encourages beneficial growth of grasses, forbs, blackberry and green briar that birds use. Checkerboard burning timber stands also creates diverse vegetation for successful nesting and poult survival. Checkerboard burning, or burning small blocks within a large timber stand, is done by burning one block of timber while skipping the next block until the following year. This allows for different types of native vegetation to grow at intervals so wild turkeys have variety from year to year.

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