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Two phases of wildlife habitat can be considered here. The first and easiest is to evaluate what already exists and then come up with an enhancement and management plan. The other is to start from scratch with a complete development program.
Certainly a major consideration is what kind of cover is most critical ... it might be winter protection, or it might be spring nesting. However, the overall picture is the key-having all elements of survival in the right place at the right time. Let's look at these briefly, considering primarily pheasant habitat at this point.
Nesting cover is in one way the most important, as without young-of-the-year, there is no need for any cover. This might be waterways, roadsides and other grassy or weedy areas with knee-high or hip-high vegetation in a large tract not mowed or grazed too early; also wheat and alfalfa if not cut at the wrong time, will give a hen a good chance to bring off a brood.
Rearing cover might be stemy plants such as soybeans, or second-year sweet clover, having room for chicks to run about beneath the foliage.
Loafing cover is always needed for roosters and idle hens, as well as maturing birds. In season, it must provide enough shelter for windbreak or sun screen, have some bare ground for dusting, and be reasonably close to food source and escape cover. Thickets, tall crops and grassy field corners are pretty ideal.
Escape cover is something to give protection; having adequate density and area to permit eluding pursuit by predators. Either a heavy thicket or big, standing cornfield would suffice. Roosting cover might be low but dense growth so that the wildlife can expect a night's rest; expansive enough that even ambitious predators cannot search it all out. Combinations of vegetative types enrich life for animals of all kinds. At different times of year needs vary, but some cover is a necessity. . . it is where wildlife must eat, sleep, nest and loaf in all kinds of weather, plus be hounded by many kinds of predators.
Winter cover really includes or combines wintertime roosts and loafing spots, particularly roosts that will not plug full of snow under blizzard conditions.
Travel lanes are needed only if the above types are not adjoining; if they are separated by considerable distance of relatively open ground.
However, as stressed throughout this publication, one type of cover is useless unless the other necessary elements are also present. A perfect habitat spot might provide weed seeds and crop residue such as corn immediately adjacent, and with adequate cover for loafing and roosting, the birds would have to move only a few yards to find all they needed.
It must also be stressed that having perfect cover for most of the year and then burning or discing it away is perhaps worse than not having any. The birds are left vulnerable after relying on that cover. In winter, that would most certainly be fatal to birds, and in spring, at best, it would drive them out.
Whenever arguments rage about the habitat issue, one faction claims that predators, hunting pressure, lack of winter feeding or some other phenomenon is the major limiting factor to game-bird populations. It has been proven over and over in countless tests, however, that denuded countryside is what hurts the birds. Intensive agricultural practices have taken out not only fenceline cover, but the fences themselves. Land leveling, shelterbelt and woodlot removal, fall discing and plowing, and winter burning of crop stubble, roadside spraying and burning, have all contributed to the barren landscape. Where there is no cover, there is no wildlife. While most landowners may not intentionally deprive wildlife of their livelihood, unfortunately, it continues to happen. Wildlife could once thrive here because conditions were conducive. By the same token, wildlife will disappear because conditions become unsuitable.