Improving buffelgrass stands for quail habitat
using native forb establishment

Aaron Tjelmeland and Timothy E. Fulbright

bobwhite small
Photo: Tim Fulbright

Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare L.) is a warm-season grass that has been introduced to South Texas from Africa. Buffelgrass is highly competitive in warm, dry environments and is resistant to heavy grazing and frequent fires. As a result, many areas in South Texas support stands of buffelgrass. However, monocultural stands of buffelgrass have been shown to support less diversity and abundances of native birds. We hypothesize that planting patches of BeeWild bundleflower (Desmanthus bicornutus) interspersed in stands of buffelgrass will increase use of the stands by bobwhites.

To test our hypothesis, we planted four 25 acre patches of BeeWild bundleflower interspersed in a 600 acre pasture that is not grazed by livestock at El Panal Ranch in Starr County, Texas. We developed a map of plant communities, roads, soil series, and caliche pads associated with oil and gas development in the study areas using GIS (Geographic Information Systems). We are collecting data on movements and habitat use of quail with radio telemetry. Data will be analyzed by plotting locations of quail determined by radio telemetry on the vegetation map with ArcView GIS v9.0 software. This will allow us to record if and how bobwhite quail utilize large areas of buffelgrass and to develop ideas on managing those areas for bobwhite quail. We will determine where they are nesting and roosting and if they select for any vegetative characteristics such as grass species or grass height, or other characteristics such as visual obscurity or distance from roads.

Radio telemetry will also allow us to determine how those quail will utilize areas that have been planted with BeeWild bundleflower, a blend of 4 bundleflower varieties that is marketed as a high quality plant for South Texas game. The bundleflower was planted using a herbicide regime of a non-selective glycophosphate herbicide to prepare a seed bed, and a grass-selective herbicide to control buffelgrass competition while forbs establish and grow above the buffelgrass canopy where they can compete for light.

This study will give South Texas landowners and wildlife managers with a better understanding of how to improve bobwhite quail habitat on rangelands. Results will provide a better understanding of how quail utilize exotic grasses, how to establish native vegetation on buffelgrass stands, whether it would be beneficial for land managers to do so, and could also provide insight into improving quail habitat on other exotic grass stands as well.

CONTACT US 28000 Highway 186, Raymondville, TX 78580