is full of surprises. When I was a young I never dreamed I would confess
to being a birdwatcher.
grew up in south Alabama in a family of hunters and fishermen. This family
tradition was comfortable for
me, still is, but through the years I have
discovered another item for my "reasons I love being out in the
woods" list. Birds!
discovery was gradual, but there were events along the way that resulted
in most of my "bird hunting" being done with binoculars instead
of a shotgun. One of the most dramatic occurred on a January morning in
was in a tree stand, camo from head to toe, waiting for a buck to show.
Just as the sunrays broke through the branches a bird landed on my arm. It
scared the daylights out of me. I had no idea what kind of bird he was.
Looked like a brown woodpecker as it hitched around the tree, but it
wasnít a woodpecker. I looked in a bird book when I got home. It was a
Brown Creeper. I was hooked!
list of "birds seen" started to grow. Some were in my backyard;
most were on the 800 acres that my hunting club leases. There are a
variety of habitats on this tract including mature forest, clearcuts,
pastures, food plots, man-made pond, and a beaver pond. The land has been
managed for farming, timber production, hunting and fishing. Parts of the
management plan were left to Mother Nature. Until I got hooked on birdwatching she was the only one doing much for songbirds. My obsession
with adding birds to my "life list" resulted in "songbird
management" being added to the plan.
am not a professional land manager, biologist, or anything else much but a
"good olí boy" who likes to hunt, fish, and birdwatch. My
management plan is the result of reading, asking questions, and years of
"seat of the pants" experimentation. It appears to be working. I
have recorded 179 species of birds on the property. This is almost half of
the list of birds recorded in Alabama.
are a few things I have done in the various habitats on the 800 acres.
not much opportunity for quick results here short of cutting the trees. It
takes a while to grow big poplars, oaks, and gums. The number of good bird
trees in the forest can be increased. One of the best is a dogwood. I have
had good results pulling up small seedlings and planting them in a hole
kicked in the ground.
there are clearings and sunny spots I plant wildflower seeds and those
from berry producing shrubs and vines. Buckeyes will grow in clearings and
sunny areas. I collect the seed in late summer and fall and plant them the
following spring. Buckeyes have bright red blooms that appear in March.
They are great for hummingbirds.
live in the forest and need dead trees for housing and feeding. If disease
and insects are not a problem I leave the deadwood standing.
species of birds use mature forests than use other types of habitat. The
ones who do canít make a living anywhere else. Summer Tanagers, Red-eyed
Vireos, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos prefer the mature forest and in winter
this is where you may see your first Brown Creeper. A blooming Tulip
Poplar is a magnet for migrating warblers in April.
and Food Plots
are the areas that offer the best opportunity for management that produces
quick changes in the landscape.
are numerous bird species that prefer to live in edge habitat. They like
areas where meadow meets forest because of the cover and abundant food
supply. My hunting club owns a tractor, disk harrow, and Bush Hog. I use
these to create edge.
September, when the food plots are finished, I work on the bird plots.
Itís easy and doesnít take long. There are countless wildflower and
other seeds a few inches under the surface most anywhere. Any gardener or
farmer can tell you what happens when these get plowed up. My next move
had to be cleared with the landowner. If you donít own the land you are
using, better check with the boss before you start plowing the pastures.
donít really plow the pastures but I do run the disk around the edges
and along the fences, ditches, and other places that are not used
otherwise. I also make a few passes around the edges of the food plots.
Then I move into the wooded areas and disk the edges of the logging roads,
log landings and accessible clearings. Thatís all there is to it.
March a frenzy of germination takes place and a bird paradise begins. Many
of the birds that use edge are seedeaters. Beggar weed, American Beauty
Berry, greenbriar, and other weeds and flowers that produce berries and
seed will be the first to sprout. If a variety of good bird plants donít
come up I collect seed and scatter them on the plowed areas. I carry a
plastic bag in my pocket when I am rambling about and have probably
collected and planted a million seeds over the years.
seeds sprout along with the weed and flower seeds. It doesnít take long
for the sweet gums, pines and oaks to crowd out everything else. When this
happens I hitch up the Bush Hog.
weedy areas and thickets offer good cover and food for White-eyed Vireos,
Prairie Warblers, Indigo Buntings, and Blue Grosbeaks in summer and in
winter sparrows are abundant.
is a downside to creating a lot of edge habitat. Predators such as raccoons,
foxes, and bobcats can make a good living in edge and will hunt it
regularly. Edge also seems to encourage Brown-headed Cowbirds. When you
plow the edges you are very likely to see an increase in the birds that
like thickets and weeds but it may be at the expense of other species,
especially the forest dwellers that haven't learned to deal with
affects the birdlife in an area and there has been some on the 800 acres.
The first 4 or 5 years after a cut are a bonanza for certain birds.
Yellow-breasted Chats, Indigo Buntings, and Blue Grosbeaks thrive in young
pine plantations. After a few years the pines take over and a monoculture
results. When I am out for a bird walk I donít bother to visit the
older, pure pine plantations.
good thing to do in the edge and open areas is install birdhouses. Iíve
put up a large number. Bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, wrens, and
nuthatches use them.
Pond and Beaver Pond
management plan for the pond consists mostly of what I donít do. I
donít keep the edge too clean. If cattails come up I donít kill them.
If River Birch and Wax Myrtle sprout I let them grow. The result? Marsh
Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds, Least Bitterns and a lot of ducks in the
only thing I have done to manage the beaver pond is persuading the
landowner not to blow up the dam. The beavers are good managers. The
result? Prothonotary, Kentucky and Swainsonís Warblers in spring and
summer and Phoebes and Swamp Sparrows in winter. If you ever get a good
look at a Prothonotary Warbler on a sunny April morning it will change
management techniques above are a few things I have done to create a
variety of good bird habitats. Maintaining diversity is the way the
biologists describe it. I think of it as creating areas with a lot of
different trees, weeds, flowers, grasses, vines, shrubs... well you get
wait until a Brown Creeper lands on your arm to discover birds. Get some
binoculars, a bird identification book, and do a little plowing around the
edges. Before you know it you might confess to being a birdwatcher.