Wettest May on Record!
By Dr. Bill Palmer, Game Bird Program Director
With normal to slightly above average survival continuing through winter and spring, the breeding populations are very good this year and we are positioned for another increasing year. Some positive signs are excellent habitat conditions and increasing cotton rat populations in the Red Hills Region and Albany Area. Nesting season is now well underway on Tall Timbers with about 20% of hens incubating nests now. We will experience our first quail hatches of the year this week. Clutch sizes are well above average as well, and we are seeing more “mega-clutches” (up to 29 eggs likely indicating nest dumping) than in recent years. Reports of broods have been coming in for about a week now from area plantations, but the first week of June should be the start of a major hatching period. The recent cold and raining weather have not affected nesting or incubation but drier and warmer weather is needed for good brooding conditions in June. Despite the great oak mast year, our supplemental feeding studies of different rates of feed have shown a linear relationship with nest productivity thus far. For equal numbers of hens we have 15 nests on the 2 bushel treatment, 6 on the 0.5 bushel treatment and 3 on the control. This data suggests that continuing feeding even after a good oak mast year will potentially improve total reproductive output. Look for tons of information on feeding rates, how quickly feed disappears from feeding trails, and how declining feeding affects bird’s diets, their hourly movements throughout the day, hunting success and much more in our upcoming Quail Call later this summer. We will also have information on a feeders study in Albany and much more.
Fire Research and Birds
At Tall Timbers, our research has found that both quail and Bachman’s sparrows respond to “time since fire” in upland pine forests (especially wiregrass areas) similarly. And, that after about 18 months post-fire, they begin to leave areas that were not burned in favor of more recently burned areas. For ground foraging species, the open nature of ground cover created by frequent fire is very important. Now Graduate Student James Martin has been looking at some turkey data we collected at Pebble Hill. Most management recommendations on turkeys say you should burn upland pine stands at a 3 to 5-year frequency. We believe this is too long for open pine systems. Telemetry studies conducted by Mike Juhan of the Game Bird Program found overall that open upland pine forests were not, on average, selected by hens, except for nesting. However, if you look more closely at the data you see that turkeys, like quail and sparrows, are very sensitive to time since fire in open pine forests. The graph below indicates that turkeys show a selection for open pines forests immediately after burning (probably foraging on insects exposed seeds), then again prefer these forests between 70 and 300 days post-fire. After about a year turkeys begin to avoid open upland pine forests. The more we study the ephemeral nature of habitats created by fire, the more we find that frequent fire is important for good wildlife management.
This graph indicates that wild turkeys select for open pine forests (use an area more than it is available) almost immediately after burning and then for about one year after which they begin to avoid open pine forests (use them less than they are available). Turkeys do prefer to nest in 2-year pine roughs however.