Northern Bobwhite Seasonal Habitat Selection on a Reclaimed Surface Coal Mine in Kentucky

Reclaimed surface mines present an opportunity to provide large tracts of habitat for northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus). Reclaimed surface mine sites are commonly planted to non-native species, including sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata) and tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus), which can inhibit growth of more desirable plant species and limit favorable structure for bobwhite. There have been no studies documenting how bobwhites use various vegetation types common to reclaimed surface mine land. Habitat use studies can provide information on selected vegetation types on these unique landscapes and help direct future management decisions. We radio-marked 841 bobwhite from October 2009 to September 2011 on Peabody Wildlife Management Area (PWMA), a 3,330-ha reclaimed surface mine in Kentucky, to investigate how bobwhite used associated vegetation types and responded to habitat management practices. We used 104 individuals, excluding nesting or brooding birds, to describe habitat use during the breeding season (1 April - 30 September), and 51 coveys during the nonbreeding season (1 October - 31 March). Bobwhite used shrub cover (CI = 0.121 - 0.339) and firebreaks (CI = 0.034 - 0.549) planted to winter wheat more than any other vegetation type during the breeding season and avoided areas of dense, planted native warm-season grasses (NWSG) and WMA roads. During the nonbreeding season, density of woody edges was influential (parameter estimates ≤ 0.017), confirming affinity for scattered patches of shrub cover. Our results suggest that despite supporting plant species that traditionally have been defined as undesirable, reclaimed lands can support bobwhite populations. However, these areas should not be viewed as optimal for bobwhite because dense plant cover limited openness at ground level and nonnative plants inhibited cover of native forbs that provide increased nutrition. We recommend reclaimed surface mine lands be considered when designating focal areas for bobwhite management.

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