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  • Writer's pictureTim Cartner, RF

Woodscaping For Wildlife

From wildlife's viewpoint, all forests are not created equal. A young forest, with its abundant seed-producing plants, provides an excellent food source for quail. The pileated woodpecker is at the other end of the spectrum, needing older forests with dead and decaying trees for nesting and food sources. Other animals, such as the wild turkey, need a diversity of forest stand types–early successional areas for spring and summer nesting and feeding and mature hardwood forests for fall and winter feeding and roosting.

As land managers, we can manipulate our forests to have a positive impact on habitat for wildlife.

Things you can do to make your land more wildlife-friendly:

  • Create a landscape with varying forest stand types and age classes. This diversity ensures that food, nesting, and cover needs are met for many species throughout the year.

  • Thin your pine stands. Thinning allows sunlight to reach the ground, stimulating the growth of understory plants that provide food, cover, and nesting habitat. A forester can help you determine the best stand density for a balance between your wildlife and financial goals.

  • Following a harvest, disk and plant timber loading areas. Native grasses or other beneficial crops will benefit a multitude of species.

  • Create edge habitat. Edges occur where two habitat types, such as forest and meadow, meet. Important wildlife food sources such as persimmon, plum, black gum, mulberry, blackberry, muscadine, and honeysuckle grow in these areas. The brushy nature of edges provides feeding, nesting, and cover habitat for many species of wildlife. Landowners can maximize edges by daylighting roads, extending stream management buffers to include side drains, and harvesting small, irregular-shaped timber blocks. Allowing the outer edges of cropland to grow in native plants will also create edges.

  • Make brush piles. Cut and pile unwanted saplings into loose piles along edges or near a water source. Rodents, birds, and other small animals will utilize these piles.

  • Leave dead trees (snags) and hollow cavity trees standing when harvesting. Dead and hollow trees provide food, shelter, and roosting for many birds, reptiles, and mammals. Snags can be created by girdling unwanted or undesirable trees.

Owl's nest in a yellow poplar tree
An owl took up residence in this hollow yellow poplar tree.
  • Create open space. If you don’t have open land, create it. Try to keep a portion of your land area in natural meadows or early successional forests. Make your open areas irregularly shaped and between one and five acres in size.

  • Plant fruit and nut-bearing trees and vines. These plantings help supplement nature’s food sources and ensure wildlife stays on your land year-round.

Managing your land for improved wildlife habitat is an enriching experience. In most cases, wildlife habitat improvements integrate easily with your timber management.

Diverse wildlife habitat
The Wildlife-Friendly Woodscape. A property with a diverse mixture of species, age classes, and open land will have an abundance of wildlife.
  1. Edge habitat. Associated wildlife: deer, turkey, quail, rabbits, and songbirds.

  2. Hardwood bottomland. Associated wildlife: deer, turkey, owl, woodpecker, woodcock, raccoon, and beaver.

  3. Thinned pine. Associated wildlife: quail, rabbit, deer, turkey, and songbirds.

  4. Early successional forest. Associated wildlife: quail, deer, turkey, songbirds, birds of prey, rabbit, and other rodents.

  5. Mature hardwood. Associated wildlife: deer, turkey, squirrel, raccoon, woodpecker, and owl.

  6. Dead trees (standing and fallen). Associated wildlife: squirrel, raccoon, woodpecker, bats, owl, and bobcat.

  7. Brush piles. Associated wildlife: rabbit, quail, songbirds, raccoon, turtle, lizard, snake, chipmunk, and other small rodents.

  8. Food plots and seed and nut orchards. Associated wildlife: deer, turkey, raccoon, opossum, quail, squirrel, rabbit, and songbirds.


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