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Flame on for northern bobwhite habitat

BY Randy Brents

ON 04-25-2018


April 25, 2018

Randy Brents

AGFC Prescribed Fire Manager

LITTLE ROCK – Prescribed fire and bobwhite quail — one restores a natural process, the other is a natural species. Prescribed fire will take place without quail but quail will not thrive without prescribed fire. How do we get more fire on the ground? We must first understand its benefits and specifically how they relate to bobwhite quail.

Bobwhite quail as a species spend most of their natural life cycle in amongst the grasses and forbs, on the ground and out of site to those who aren’t looking or listening. A closer observation by a trained eye presents a whole other world. People have the ability to improve their food and housing options, but a bobwhite’s life is constantly being impeded by diminished food sources and poorer housing, less space along with other issues.

Prescribed fire provides a flush of new vegetation, offering seeds and invertebrates for quail. Putting fire on the ground at different intervals and different seasons favors a variety of food sources. There’s the new restaurant for bobwhite.

Housing? Prescribed fire is the restoration of a natural process, a process that before human intervention burned across a landscape and was constantly shaping habitats. With every passing flame structural diversity occurs. A fire will burn hotter or cooler depending on terrain and weather factors and as a result different impacts are made to structure.

Some animals, such as white-tailed deer and squirrels, can thrive nearly anywhere, but northern bobwhites are not generalists. They prefer a thick patch of cover such as greenbrier or other types of shrubs in winter. They prefer native clump glasses to nest, and open ground for the chicks to move freely and feed once hatched. All the while, they need some sort of overhead cover to deter predators, offer shade from heat and protect from snow. It is a large dynamic habitat. One that has to have many components to be efficient for their survival, all of which are improved by prescribed fire.

Land managers must use every tool in our proverbial toolbox, and prescribed fire should be that big hammer amongst the screwdrivers and small wrenches. Set aside the acres, use prescribed fire coupled with other actions for bobwhite quail management and they will come. Putting a little fire on the ground at the right place, at the right time and with the right intention can be the best prescription a landowner can make to create those restaurants and homes quail need.

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