• Avian habitat following grazing native warm-season forages in the mid-south United States

      Harper, C. A.; Birckhead, J. L.; Keyser, P. D.; Waller, J. C.; Backus, M. M.; Bates, G. E.; Holcomb, E. D.; Brooke, J. M. (Society for Range Management, 2015-03)
      Native warm-season grasses (NWSG) currently are being promoted for livestock forage and biofuels feedstock in the Mid-South. However, there are no published data on how NWSG managed with livestock in the Mid-South may affect habitat for wildlife. We conducted a study to evaluate habitat for grassland songbirds and northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) in response to two cattle grazing treatments in NWSG pastures across three sites in Tennessee, 2010 and 2011. We evaluated vegetation composition and structure along with invertebrate availability during the primary nesting season for grassland songbirds and the typical brood-rearing season for the northern bobwhite. Grazing treatments included full-season (May to August) grazing and early-season (30 days beginning in May) grazing, after which subsequent growth was taken as a biofuel harvest postdormancy. Forage treatments included big bluestem/indiangrass mixture, switchgrass, and eastern gamagrass. Vegetation composition was dominated by the planted forages in all pastures. All forage types and both grazing treatments provided suitable structure for grassland songbirds and bobwhite during the primary nesting season. Full-season grazing maintained suitable structure through the brooding period, with greater openness at the ground level and angle of obstruction, as well as optimal vegetation height (<60 cm). Structure within early-season grazing treatments became dense after cattle were removed with less openness at ground level than what brooding bobwhites typically use. Invertebrate biomass was sufficient in all forage types and grazing treatments to support bobwhite broods. We recommend livestock producers in the Mid-South use full-season grazing that maintains grass height of approximately 40 cm in production stands of NWSG to maximize benefits for grassland birds and northern bobwhite. © 2015 Society for Range Management. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.