Western Navarro Bobwhite Restoration Initative

Habitat Evaluation and Management


Suitable habitat for bobwhites must have 4 basic components:

  1. Native bunchgrasses for nesting structures – 250 or more native bunch grass clumps per acre.
  2. Low growing woody cover for loafing and predator evasion – 5-15% brush canopy cover.
  3. Forbs that provide food (seed and insects) and visual screening cover – 5 or more food plants available and easily accessible.
  4. Some open ground for easy movement through the vegetation

Land Management practices should be directed towards providing all of these components

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Habitat Evaluation Guide

In order to properly manage your land to provide usable space for bobwhites, the habitat conditions should be monitored regularly to insure that the habitat is providing all of the basic components for daily survival and reproduction.

Once deficiencies are identified, apply management practices to encourage the required condition.

For simplicity and to help guide management decisions, the Habitat Evaluation Guide is broken into 3 ranking categories.

  1. Poor – Not suitable.
  2. Fair – Has some critical habitat components but one or more are lacking.
  3. Good – Contains all of the critical components.

Below are some examples of poor, fair, and good habitats along with possible management actions that may be required to alleviate habitat deficiencies.

Poor Habitat Ranking – unsuitable for bobwhite survival

  • Nesting Cover – 0-250 native bunch grasses per acre. 
  • Food Abundance – beneficial plant species (see Key Plants page) are not available or are scarce in the general area.
  • Loafing/Escape Cover Interspersion – 0-5% canopy cover.
    • Loafing/escape cover does not exist in the evaluation area or is interspersed too far apart to be usable for bobwhites.

Introduced Pastures.
Bermudagrass, King Ranch bluestem, etc.

Overgrazed Pastures

Cropland

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Management
Introduced Pastures – Must be restored to native grasses and forbs to provide habitat for bobwhites.

  • Herbicide application required prior to planting native grass and forb seed.
  • 2 growing season deferment from grazing is required to allow establishment.
  • Once native grasses are established, graze using a deferred rotation grazing system at the NRCS recommended stocking rate for native pastures.

Overgrazed Pasture

  • Depending on severity of the overgrazing long term rest or range seeding may be required to recover the grassland.
  • Lower the stocking rate to the recommended NRCS stocking rate for native pastures.
  • Install cross-fencing to allow for rotational grazing.

Fair Habitat Ranking

Contains some of the necessary habitat components, but one or more critical features (i.e. suitable nesting cover, loafing/escape cover, or adequate food abundance) are missing.
  • Nesting Cover
    • Limiting = 0-250, 14 inch diameter and 8-10 inch tall native bunch grass clumps per acre.
    • Not limiting = 250 or more 14 inch diameter 8-10 inch tall native bunch grass clumps per acre.
  • Food Abundance
    • Limiting = beneficial plant species (see list) are not available or are scarce in the general area.
    • Not limiting = at least 5 beneficial plant species (see list) are available and well dispersed in the general area.
  • Loafing/Escape Cover Interspersion – 5-15% canopy cover
    • Limiting = 0-5% canopy cover. Loafing/escape cover does not exist in the evaluation area or is interspersed too far apart to be usable for bobwhites.
    • Not Limiting = 5-15% canopy cover.  Loafing/escape cover is well interspersed throughout the general area (wherever you stand, you are about 40 yards to a suitable brush patch).

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Heavy grazing is restricting nesting cover.

Nesting cover, food abundance, and loafing cover are suitable.  However, long term lack of disturbance has created conditions that are too thick to be usable for bobwhites.

Nesting cover and food abundance is good, but loafing/escape cover is lacking.

Management
Nesting Cover - less than 250 native bunch grass clumps per acre.
  • Evaluate stocking rate and adjust (lower) to appropriate NRCS recommended rate, or
  • Defer grazing for 1-2 growing seasons to allow range recovery
  • Re-seed with native bunch grasses

Food Abundance – less than 5 beneficial plant species (see list) are available and well dispersed in the general area.

  • Soil disturbance is typically required to promote seed producing forbs (see list)
    • Prescribed burning
    • Strip disking

Loafing\escape cover

  • Less than 5% brush canopy cover
    • Plant patches of preferred brush species approximately 100 yards apart (See Key Plants page).
    • If pastures a typically shredded, stop shredding and allow brush species to establish.
  • Greater than 15% brush canopy cover
    • Sculpt brush using chemical or mechanical treatments leaving scattered patches approximately 30 ft in diameter and about 100 yards apart.
    • Consult with your local wildlife biologist, county extension agent, or NRCS office before applying chemical treatments.

Good Habitat Ranking – Contains all of the necessary habitat components.

  • Nesting Cover
    • 250 or more, 14 inch diameter and 8-10 inch tall native bunch grass clumps per acre
  • Food Abundance
    • Area Contains 5 or more beneficial plant species (see list) and are well distributed throughout the area,
  • Loafing/Escape Cover Interspersion – 0-15% canopy cover
    • 5-15% of the area contains suitable loafing/escape cover that is adequately interspersed throughout the general area (wherever you stand, you are about 40 yards to a suitable brush patch)
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Good mixture of nesting structure (bunch grasses), food plants (forbs) and woody escape cover is well dispersed.

Contains all essential components of bobwhite habitat.  However, disturbance such as prescribed burning or flash grazing would stimulate more food plants (forbs) and improve screening cover.

Close to perfect mixture of nesting cover (bunch grasses), food plants (fobs) and escape/loafing cover.

Management

Continue current management to maintain suitable habitat conditions.
  • Rotational Grazing
  • Prescribed Burning
  • Selective Brush Control
  • Strip Disking
  • Patch Burn Grazing

For technical assistance in developing a habitat management plan for your ranch contact your local Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Biologist, NRCS office, or Texas Agrilife Extension Agent.

If you are not currently a member of WNBRI and would like to become a member go to the Contact WNBRI to register.