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Good cover vitally important for quail success

We often take our warm beds or air conditioned living rooms for granted. But, how does wildlife cope without these comforts during the extreme periods of winter and summer? 

With temperatures hovering in the low 100s, it is important to take a look at things we can do to help improve wildlife's chances of survival in extreme conditions.

Woody cover is a critical component for wildlife survival. It is often the limiting factor in areas where wildlife populations are less than optimum. Woody cover provides protection from weather extremes as well as predators.

Research regarding temperature differences for quail has been conducted by Dr. Fred Guthery, one of the most renown quail biologists in the country, from OSU, and shows they began cooling themselves when temperatures reach 95 degrees, and when temperatures reach 102 degrees they become extremely stressed.

The research determined that temperatures are often nine degrees cooler under thickets and other woody cover. So, with adequate cover, temperatures could rise to 103 degrees before bobwhite quail are required to expend energy to stay cool.

Quail require as much as 20 percent woody cover, and a plum thicket 60 feet in diameter will fit the bill. By far, the best dilemma is having too much cover rather than too little, so landowners are encouraged to increase the amount of cover on their property.

First determine the long term feasibility and practicality of establishing cover. Planting or transplanting trees/shrubs, provides better long term results than constructing brush shelters. Both techniques will be expensive, but can increase lacking brush cover.

Landowners and managers can use the following recommendations when increasing the woody cover component in an area:

n Plant a variety of native species to increase the diversity of habitat and food resources for wildlife in the area. 

n Transplanting trees and shrubs with a tree spade is very effective if completed between December and January when they are dormant. The tree spade will increase survival rates and gives landowners a jump start on the maturity of the trees and shrubs planted. 

n Hedgerows and travel corridors should consist of three to five rows. Taller tree species should be planted in the middle rows about 12 to 15 feet apart while shrubs are planted six to eight feet apart on the outside. Motts should be planted with shrubs in star or cross shaped patterns. Motts should be 50-60 feet in diameter at a rate of 1 mott per 10 acres. 

n Seedlings should be planted in March for best results and the ground should be prepared prior to planting. Seedlings should be heavily watered soon after planting and weed barrier and polyacrylamide crystals should be used to increase survival rates on trees and shrubs planted in the arid regions of our state. 

n Tree and shrub seedlings can be ordered through the Oklahoma Department of Agricultural, Forestry Services beginning September 1 at 1-800-517-3673. Additional information and order forms are also available at your local Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field offices.

Those choosing to construct brush shelters should remember to provide enough space under the shelter for small wildlife. The shelters should have enough top cover to block out the sun and produce bare ground underneath. This can be accomplished with the following guidelines:

n Make brush shelters approximately 10 feet by 10 feet in diameter, six to eight feet tall, and one foot above the ground. 

n Place two large tree trunks, logs, or posts parallel to each other. Next place three to four logs or posts on top of and perpendicular to the first two. This will give you a grid-style frame and allow the canopy to be formed when smaller limbs are placed on top. 

n Construct brush shelters in pairs or triplets, about 500 feet apart and in corridors when possible.

 Kites can get aggressive 

Every year about this time I get a call, or calls that sound like something straight out of a Alfred Hitchcock movie ñ Birds are Attacking!

The usual culprit is a small raptor called a Mississippi Kite. Kites can resemble gray missile that will swoop down and give warning strike to a dog, cat, or unsuspecting person.

Mississippi Kites are a sleek, gray, crow-sized raptor. They are common to the central and southern Great Plains area and seem to love to nest in urban areas. They are very graceful flyers, swooping in and out or riding thermal currents high into the sky, then swooping back to earth to catch a beetle, grasshopper, small snake or lizard. 

This time of year these small hawks can get quite aggressive. Diving and sometimes actually hitting a would-be predator getting too close to a nesting pair. Size of the predator does not matter. Cats, squirrels, dogs and humans are all targets. 

Most of the time the birds are just making scraping runs that are not backed up by any physical contact, but every once in a while they will enforce their intentions by swiping the target with outstretched claws. Occasionally the attack will draw blood, but this is very rare.

Kites are not the only birds that can show aggressive behavior during the nesting season. Bluejays, cardinals, mocking birds and even robins have been known to swoop and attack unaware passersby. 

The good news is that this aggressive behavior will end soon, when the young are old enough to get airborne. And not many people get to be that close to nature.

Armadilloswreaking havoc

Four-legged, armored and football shaped, armadillos are the cause of many headaches for residents of Oklahoma every summer. So much for your well manicured lawn.

And with the continued heat and drought, you are even more likely to experience trouble with these little rototillars.

"One of the most common wildlife damage complaints during the summer months concerns armadillos," said Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist. "Armadillos usually cause problems during the late hours of the night as they dig for insects and larvae in lawns."

The animals can be seen year-round but are most active during the warmer months. There are a few reasons for this. First, lawns are usually mowed so there is little vegetation to impede foraging.

Second, homeowners begin irrigating their lawns, which results in the soil being loose and easy to dig. And finally, the irrigation keeps larval insects close to the soil surface.

"Once armadillos find a suitable foraging spot, they normally return repeatedly," Elmore said, adding there are some ways to control the animals from ruining your lawn.

Exclusion fences may work for small garden beds, but lawns are typically too large for this option. Also, modification of the habitat, such as removal of ground vegetation can work, but this solution is not ideal because usually the vegetation is ornamental.

"If possible the homeowner might consider decreasing irrigation of their lawn in an attempt to interrupt the foraging cycle of the armadillo," said Elmore, who is also an assistant professor in the department of natural resource ecology and management. "This will sometimes provide relief and may work for drought tolerant lawns."

However, trapping is the primary control method as there are no known repellants that are effective on armadillos. Soil insecticides will reduce the food source but also eliminates bugs that are beneficial and while shooting is effective, it is limited by local ordinances within city limits.

"Fortunately, armadillos are quite easy to trap," Elmore said.

After identifying an area that is popular amongst the armadillo population, a live catch trap should be set in the area. No bait is needed but funnels can be used to direct the animal to the trap.

The traps should be closed during the day and checked early in the morning. There is no special permit needed for individuals to control armadillos in Oklahoma. Once trapped, the armadillo should be humanly euthanized.

The Lawton Constitution

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