Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Probably the most important habitat component which can be provided
on private land is food plots. As mentioned in the "Winter food"
section, these are not only important for the foods available in the winter
but during the spring as well. And, if a portion of a food plot is left untilled
the second season, the weedy forb growth and its associated insects can be
important brood habitat. Sunflowers, then corn, are recommended. Sunflowers
would be desirable for 2 reasons; the seeds are highly preferred and nutritious
and the herbicides associated with sunflowers would not carry over as much
as those used with corn, thus allowing more weedy forbs to grow in the second
year portion of the plot.
Hay production, especially alfalfa, can be beneficial to prairie
chickens if the losses to nests and broods can be minimized. It can provide
attractive nesting cover and brood habitat. Perhaps some creative cooperative
arrangements can be worked out with ranchers whereby a portion of an alfalfa
field could be left unharvested until 1 August when most broods would be older.
Since broods often use field edges, it could be best left along the field
edge. Also, if swathers are used, a "down-and-back" harvesting method
might be used instead of circling the field. This could have the effect of
moving a brood across a field rather than trapping them in the middle, especially
if the brood is young.
CRP fields, if strategically positioned near (within 1-2 miles) of
booming grounds have the potential to provide near optimum nesting and roosting
cover since most are planted to brome and alfalfa. They must be managed though,
because nesting values go down as the litter accumulates. A system of disked
firebreaks could separate a field into units which could be burned on a rotational
basis. Broods would use newly-burned units as well as the disked firebreaks
for dusting and the weedy forbs. Haying or grazing could also be explored.
Approval would need to be obtained from the U.S.D.A. in order to manage CRP
fields in this way.
Land use changes
The habitat value of some private land for prairie chickens in the
SNG will go down if land formerly planted to sunflowers, corn, alfalfa, and
soybeans is converted to potato production. This will place a greater importance
on remaining lands which provide residual grains available for winter and
spring use. The method of harvest can also impact the amount of residual grains.
For example, corn chopped for silage leaves little grain behind in comparison
to corn that is picked for grain.