Structure of Avian Habitat Following Hay and Biofuels Production in Native Warm-season Grass Stands in the Mid-South

Changing pasture and hayfield management practices have impacted grassland songbird and northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) populations in the Mid-South in the past 50 years. Non-native species, such as tall fescue (Schedonorus phoenix) and orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata), are commonly used for hay production, where they are managed in dense stands that are harvested during peak nesting periods for grassland birds. Native warm-season grasses, including switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) have been promoted for hay and biofuels production and are often touted as beneficial for wildlife. The benefits of native warm-season grasses for grassland birds and northern bobwhite are influenced by stand management. We conducted a study during 2010 and 2011 to evaluate the impact of two hay harvest treatments and one biofuels harvest treatment on vegetative structure for nesting and brood-rearing grassland birds and northern bobwhite in three native warm-season grass (nwsg) mixtures in Tennessee. Hay and biofuels stands provided adequate nesting cover for grassland songbirds and northern bobwhite through May, and hay harvests in May and June created suitable structure for brood-rearing northern bobwhite. However, hay harvests in May or June negatively impact nesting success for grassland songbirds and northern bobwhite. Nwsg planted for biofuels only did not provide suitable structure for northern bobwhite broods. We recommend big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) for hay producers who have an interest in grassland songbirds as these species mature later and their harvest in mid- to late June is more likely to allow successful initial nesting attempts.

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