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Upland Game Bird Habitat Improvements


Habitat improvement projects are often cooperative efforts involving various government agencies, conservation/sporting organizations and private landowners. Cooperators in the past two years have included the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Oregon Hunters’ Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and several private landowners. With the involvement of many cooperators, much more can be accomplished than any one group acting alone.

Tree and Shrub Plots

tractor tree and shrub lot
Above: The photo on the left shows ODFW employees at the Summer Lake Wildlife Area planting a tree and shrub plot. The photo on the right shows an established tree and shrub plot 7 years after planting. The fence in foreground protected young plants from being browsed.

treesUpland game bird habitat projects include the planting of trees and shrubs which provide protection, nest sites and food. As with any habitat enhancement project many other species wildlife also benefit. Often these tree and shrub plots provide nest sites for neo-tropical migrants in environments with little tree and shrub cover. Tree and shrub plots are most important to upland game birds during winter when they provide shelter and a food source. Planting many different species of shrubs ensures that a variety of food of food is available, sometimes well into the winter. In some areas, new shrub plots need to fenced while the plants are young to deter browsing by big game. Once the plots are established big game are also given access to plots.

Gallinaceous Guzzlers
Guzzler Guzzler
Above Left: A guzzler in poor condition withcollapsed roof. Above Right: A recently repaired guzzler in working order.

“Gallinaceous guzzlers” are a type of small water catchment which collect rainwater in cisterns or troughs. The simplest versions use a metal roof to intercept any rainfall for collection. This extends the time water is available to upland game birds and other wildlife. Where access to water is a limiting factor these guzzlers can increase the distribution and abundance of many species of wildlife. In Oregon, thousands of guzzlers of been installed mostly on the east side of the state. Some guzzlers are designed to provide drinking water for bighorn sheep while others are designed specifically for game birds. Regardless of the design, a working guzzler benefits many game and non-game species. Guzzlers do need to be maintained. Before funding the installation of any new guzzlers, the Game Bird Program requires that a maintenance schedule is in place.

Riparian Fencing

Burnt River Burnt River

Above are two photos taken less than 4 months apart on tributary of the Burnt River in Baker County. More than 1.5 miles of stream were fenced with the costs shared by many cooperators including the ODFW’s Upland Game Bird program, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Blue Mountain Elk Initiative, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

Fencing riparian areas such as this improve habitat for upland birds such ruffed grouse, California quail, wild turkey, and may even provide winter habitat for chukars – all species found in the area. In addition to providing improved habitat for upland game birds, fencing of riparian areas will help reduce erosion, stabilize streambanks, improve of water quality, and increase the quantity and diversity of vegetation. These improvements will also benefit big game (deer, elk, and bighorn sheep) and many species of other wildlife such as songbirds and amphibians.

Riparian fencing projects can be designed to allow livestock access for watering, or through the use of gates, full livestock access during selected times of the year. Simply, riparian fences give land managers more control for managing streamside habitats.

Equipment Purchase

tractor SLWA staff
Above Left : Old international tractor and seed drill still in use at the Summer Lake Wildlife Area. Above Right: Sauvie Island Wildlife Area staff with a new tractor.

On occasion, upland stamp funds may be used to help ODFW wildlife areas or habitat biologists purchase “big ticket” items such as a tractor or no-till drill if the habitat work done with equipment will benefit upland game birds. This is often a very happy event for the employees who are used to using (and repairing) equipment that is often many decades old.

Forage Planting

tractor habitat

Wildlife managers sometimes plant preferred food items to mitigate the loss natural habitat or attract wildlife away from damage and/or nuisance situations. Many upland game bird species are very fond of cereal grains such as wheat, corn, barley, and millet. Upland game birds also enjoy crops such as sunflowers and pea, as do many songbirds. Upland game bird managers may also plant “green forage” such as clover (a legume). Quail in particular benefit from the planting of legumes. Quail will eat the green plant material as well as the seeds after flowering. Insects attracted to the plants while flowering can be particularly important to chicks which require a high protein and fat diet for their rapid growth.

Vegetation Control

Controlling or managing vegetation is an important part of upland game bird management. Many upland game bird species depend on early successional plant communities. This means they depend on the first plant communities to colonize an area after some form of disturbance; historically the source of disturbance was usually fire. To set back plant succession, wildlife managers may use fire, but they can also use mechanical means such as discing.

Vegetation may also be managed to reduce or eliminate noxious or invasive plants. Invasive plants crowd out more desirable plant species reduce the overall plant diversity of a particular site. Fire, mechanical, or even chemical means may be used to control invasive or noxious plants.

Mechanical, fire, or chemical control of invasive species. Some of these methods may also be used to set back plant succession.


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