Tips for Creating Upland Bird Habitat

Written by: David Krawczynski

Thoughts about how to manage upland birds vary widely depending upon where your geographic location. One thing that is, unfortunately, the same everywhere is the decline in upland bird numbers, especially quail. For the past 50 years, the quail population has been slowly decreasing on a national level. Programs such as Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) have provided funding to assist in habitat restoration for farmland. New programs are also in place, such as Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds (CP 33), which specifically targets upland-bird habitats in an attempt to increase regional populations while subsidizing landowners for their efforts.

There are, however, other ways of increasing populations on your own land without being involved in government programs. Planting native grasses is one very easy and effective way of creating an upland-bird habitat. Native grass seed can be found at any extension office or local garden store. Broadcasting it by hand or mechanically is the best way to get your stand started, which will one day provide ample cover for all native upland-bird species. Another easy and effective tip is to let portions of your property, especially fence rows, creeks, or low spots and edges of wood lines grow, without mowing, to increase available escape cover from predators. These two practices will help you create a habitat for upland species; however, to effectively assist upland populations, there must be an abundant food source.

Deer Creek Lodge 2

Planting native grasses is a great way to attract upland birds and provide habitat for their recovery.

photo by David Krawczynski

Upland birds eat insects, vegetative matter, but mainly seeds. Seed-producing plants such as sunflower, sorghum, millet, peas, and beans are ideal for the majority of upland-bird species. Every one of these seeds can be broadcast-planted and will provide food year-round. Keep in mind that when broadcasting seeds the rule is to use 50% more than traditional row planting techniques. Most upland birds do not migrate so creating a food source is key to keeping the population on your property. One final but overlooked aspect of habitat improvement for upland birds is water. While the planting of grasses and seed-producing plants are advisable and a great idea, water is a requirement to sustain a population.

Hopefully, these tips can help you improve a declining trend in our upland bird species, as well as provide you with some sporting opportunities.

David Krawczynski is the sales manager for Deer Creek Lodge in Sebree, Kentucky.

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