By Mark Fike
Spring is winding down and summer is about to get started. With spring comes new life and regeneration. Warm weather is also on hand for most of us and we finally can get outside to get some much-needed chores done.
Many of us feel an urge to “clean up” our lease, property or hunting lands. We want to tidy things up, keep it tame and under control. However, we may be doing more harm than good.
This is the time of year that many rabbits are born, quail and turkey are nesting and songbirds are also nesting. Deer are dropping fawns now too. Tall grasses, weeds, even briars and thickets of saplings are prime locations for wildlife to create new life.
These habitats are necessary for the survival of many creatures. Turkey and quail “bug” such areas and hens teach their young how to find insects while undercover from hawks and eagles above. Rabbits create nests in such areas with amazing proficiency.
Along my garden, I have an electric fence in an effort to keep deer from eating my vegetables. It is a single strand of wire with step-in posts every 8-10 feet. I made a point to go along and weed whack the grass under the fence to keep the grasses and weeds from creeping into the garden.
There was one 10 foot section where I had an old grape trellis which was literally a 2×4 screwed to two 4×4 posts. The board was a foot off the ground. Sometimes I would skip this section as it was hard to do without hitting the lonely grape that was struggling to survive.
During one attempt at trimming that area, I noticed a small hole in the vegetation. I carefully parted the grass and was amazed to find a mother rabbit had dug a hole, filled it with dry grass and had a half dozen little babies tucked in there. This was an area surrounded by open yard with well-cut grass with little cover nearby. It did explain my beans being eaten!
My point is that wildlife will use any available cover, but the more cover they have, the better their chances of survival. Just yesterday I went to visit my father and he pointed to his field where he left a lot of standing brush. He described how he had watched a mature coyote trot across his driveway and into the brush looking for a meal. Just as the coyote entered the brush, a big rabbit casually hopped out the opposite end and went to the other side of the driveway where the coyote had just come from.
Given that the rabbit had enough cover, it was able to do that and survive. If you must mow, try to do it in big blocks and rotate the cover and mowing so that the animals have an opportunity to raise their young and then move to the new cover. USDA and NRCS biologists and land managers recommend this. I have used this practice as much as possible on a property that I caretake. I am able to see young turkeys, rabbits, loads of songbirds and even quail on the property each year.
Be careful not to mow the fields to the point that what you leave is only narrow strips. Coyotes and foxes are known to use that to their advantage. They start at one end of the strip and work back and forth zig-zagging as they go, pushing all the wildlife prey to one end where they suddenly run out of cover and are easy pickings.
If possible, try to mow after August when most wildlife have raised their young. A great time to mow would be late August which would give the fields enough time to regrow to a height that they would offer some cover during the winter but remain manageable for landowners.
The last thing any of us want to do is orphan some babies. No one wants to run over a turkey nest or see the fur fly. Give wildlife a break and some time to reproduce. You will be a better land manager for it. Those “untidy” fields and edges are full of new life.