Effects Of Controlled Burning On Bobwhite Quail Populations And Habitat Of An Experimental Area In The Alabama Piedmont

Fall quail population censuses were conducted on a 257.6~acre study area of the Auburn University Agricultural Experiment Station extending over a period of 23 years. Spring quail censuses were conducted for 15 years. In 1940 the land had just been retired from intensive corn and cotton cultivation, and the quail population was very low (5.0 birds per 100 acres). In 1944 the fall quail population reached 40.8 birds per 100 acres and it was about the same in 1945. By 1944 abandoned cropland on the area had reached a stage very favorable to quail, and some wildlife plantings made in 1942 were producing seed. In 1950 the area was divided for study into two parts: (1) a burn-area covering 124.2 acres, and (2) a check-area covering 133.4 acres. During a six-year period (1950-55) when approximately one-fourth of the burn-area was burned each year in late winter, the fall quail population averaged about the same as the check-area. During the next four years when approximately one-half of the burn-area was burned in late winter each year, the fall quail population of the burn-area dropped below that of the check-area. A final period of six years (1960-65) was characterized by annual late winter fires over the whole burn-area, except for 1961 when there was no fire. The fall quail population during this period averaged 50.1 birds per 100 acres on the burn-area, which was about twice that of the check-area for the same period and four times the population of the burn-area for the preceding four-year period. This six-year average population figure was higher than any previous annual figure. Examination of crop contents of 45 quail killed on the burn-area during three fall and winter seasons revealed that Lespedeza bicolor and native legumes constituted important food items. Analysis of vegetation on the burn- and check-areas made during four years revealed a much higher coverage of important quail food plants on the burn-area as compared with those on the check-area. There was an additional large increase in quail food plant coverage where fire and fertilizer were used together. Percentage of coverage by quail food plants on the burn-area was similar to that found occurring naturally on old fields in the most favorable stage of plant succession. Burning had little or no detrimental effects on growth and survival of planted slash pines on the burn-area. The planted pines were nine or 10 years of age when the burning program was begun. Management of Piedmont pine stands for quail with fire and fertilizer is discussed.

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