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Wildlife & Pollinator Habitats

Wildlife and pollinators love native plants. In fact, before Columbus arrived on America’s shore, the only plants upon the land were native plants, and the critters thrived among them. Today, most animals prefer native species, and some cannot survive without them.

Establish a wildlife habitat

A diverse mix of native grasses and wildflowers provides an excellent habitat for wildlife and pollinators. However, each species has different preferences. Use the listings below to find the requirements for the wildlife you want to encourage.
Wildlife, bobwhite quail, Hamilton Native Outpost

Bobwhite Quail

Quail populations have experienced a dramatic decline. In some states, the whistle of the Bobwhite can no longer be heard. Native grasses and forbs (wildflowers) with a little brushy cover make ideal quail habitat. The grasses provide structure and cover, and the forbs provide food by making seeds and attracting insects.

Some amount of bare ground is ideal because it provides easy travel between plants where the chicks can avoid getting wet in the morning’s dew and avoid becoming tangled in the vegetation. It also provides dusting areas. There are at least two ways to achieve the quail’s need for less dense vegetation.

First, choose shorter, smaller statured grasses and reduce the rate of native seed used to allow more space between plants. The voids between the native plants will be filled with annual weeds (e.g. ragweed, foxtail) because nature doesn’t like bare soil — From the quail’s standpoint this is great, but it can look a little weedy to us. Another approach is to use grazing livestock and prescribed fire to manage a native grassland planting, which can include the larger statured grasses and a fuller stand of plants. (This was the subject of a research study in Southwest Missouri, which found this was the best management technique known to Missouri land managers for quail populations.)

To learn more about quail habitat, watch videos about quail life during nesting and brood rearing or as a covey.

While many native grass and forb mixes can make ideal quail habitat, we have a couple mixes designed especially with quail and other wildlife in mind. The forbs in the Wildlife Chuckwagon Mix create foraging opportunities, and adding the Companion Grass Mix will provide the structure of native grasses. Consider 75% Wildlife Chuckwagon and 25% Companion Grass. If you plan to graze the area, a grazing mix may be more desirable.

If aesthetics is your goal, a wildflower meadow mix can provide both habitat and beauty. (Read more about these mixes on the Wildflower Meadow page.)

wildlife, turkey, Hamilton Native Outpost

Eastern Wild Turkey

Nesting hens love a good grassland as does a strutting tom. Like quail, turkeys recognize native grasses and forbs (wildflowers) as prime habitat. The native grasses provide structure and cover for turkeys while the native forbs contribute by making seeds that help sustain the turkeys through the winter and attract insects that serve as food during the summer, which allows the young poults to grow very fast during this season.

Prescribed fire during the winter rejuvenates the forb plants to provide more seeds and attract more insects during the subsequent growing season.

The forbs in the Wildlife Chuckwagon Mix create foraging opportunities, and adding the Companion Grass Mix will provide the structure of native grasses. The Wildlife Chuckwagon Mix is often used as 75% to 50% of the planting with the Companion Grass Mix making up the balance. Avoid planting grasses so thick that turkey will struggle to get through if pressured by predators.

If the planting goals are both turkey and grazing, a grazing mix may be more desirable. If aesthetics is a goal, a wildflower meadow mix can provide both habitat and beauty. (Read more about these mixes on the Wildflower Meadow page.)

wildlife, deer, Hamilton Native Outpost

Whitetail Deer

Native plantings provide excellent habitat for whitetails, and the best part is that these perennial native plants do not need to be planted each year. Once established, the native plants will serve as a food plot and provide bedding and cover.

During the fall, deer flock to certain native plants just like they do to traditional food plots. Achieve a perennial, native food plot by focusing on native fall favorites of the whitetail. With minimal maintenance (e.g. the occasional controlled burn or brush hogging and some invasive species control), a native food plot can attract many deer. To provide year-round browse for the deer, include more diversity in the mix as deer like to eat plants, especially forbs, that are green and growing. Each species of plant has its own season in which it is green, growing, and readily eaten.

In the fall and winter, deer are perfectly camouflaged to the color of the native warm season grasses, and they know it. Include native grasses along the edge of a food plot planting or somewhere nearby to provide a safe haven where deer feel concealed. Choose grasses that stand well through the winter and are at least three feet tall. To create a screen along a road or other area, focus on grasses that reach five feet or more and stand well through the winter. A prescribed fire is useful during the winter to remove old growth and promote new growth of the grasses.

The Buck’s Hangout Mix is a standalone mis for a food plot that contains both forbs and grasses whitetails love. To provide year-round browse, consider adding the Wildlife Chuckwagon Mix, or plant a combination of Wildlife Chuckwagon and Companion Grass Mixes in a separate area. To create a visual screen to the property or an edge to a food plot, use the tall grasses of the Hide & Sneak Mix.

wildlife, elk, Hamilton Native Outpost

Elk

Elk love grasslands. The elk that have been reintroduced into Missouri choose to spend the evening and morning hours foraging in grassland openings, and they bed down there at night. Elk eat grasses, and this makes it is important to include a variety of forage-producing native grasses in a mix, including both warm and cool season natives.

To understand the diet of elk, it is helpful to compare them to other large herbivores like bison and deer. Deer eat diets heavy in forbs and browse, while bison prefer diets high in grass. Elk dietary preferences are in the middle—a good mix of forbs, browse, and grass.

Also, most herbivores prefer diets of fresh, tender vegetation rather than mature, tough vegetation. Develop a plan to have fresh regrowth. Rotational grazing has been successful in the west to keep the plants fresh and tender during the growing season and so that the elk do not overgraze. Winter prescribed fires help to make the plants vegetative during the subsequent growing season.

Whereas other wildlife species use the native grasses mainly for shelter, elk eat the grass itself. Adding a strong component of forbs to the mix will round it out. Our Diverse Native Grassland Mix designed for livestock forage has a higher than normal component of palatable forbs that would create excellent native elk habitat. (Read more about these mixes on the Forage page).

wildlife, crayfish, Hamilton Native Outpost

Fish & Aquatic Species

There might not be an obvious connection between native plants growing on land and providing habitat for fish and other aquatic species such as crayfish and mussels—the two most endangered animals in Missouri—however, we believe that there is a connection. In order to improve streams as habitats, landscape-scale changes must be made, and native plants are an important part of that change.

Our journey to understanding this connection began with infiltration testing. After testing a native grassland, a fescue field, and savannas with and without native grasses and forbs in the understory, we found that rain runs into the soil faster where native grasses and forbs grow. (Read more about this in Land that Drinks in the Rain). This is important to streams and the critters that live in the streams because water that runs into the soil can be filtered through the soil and SLOWLY arrive in springs and streams rather than arriving in a rush during the rain event.

The constant supply of water provides year-round habitat for aquatic organisms rather than having a huge flood followed by a dry streambed, which is of no use to an organism that needs constant water.

Establish a pollinator habitat

Flowers are the centerpiece of the habitat for these critters. A constant supply of flowers from spring through fall is important for many pollinators, and establishing a large diversity of plants means something is always blooming. However, each pollinator group has other important habitat considerations as well.
wildlife and pollinators, butterfly, Hamilton Native Outpost

Butterflies, Moths & Sphinx Moths

In general, habitat requirements are similar among the butterflies, moths, and sphinx moths. As a caterpillar, most of these pollinators have a certain species of plant or narrow group of plants that they consume. For the Monarch, it is the milkweed leaves. After metamorphizing into a butterfly, moth, or sphinx moth, these winged critters are much less discriminating about the flowers from which they collect nectar.

However, because they have a long “tongue,” or proboscis, they can retrieve nectar from deep flowers that other pollinators cannot. They also seem to like flowers that are clustered together on a plant to make nectar collection easy.

Butterflies, moths, and sphinx moths deal with winter in a variety of ways. Some, like the Monarch, migrate south to find warmer weather. Others overwinter as either a caterpillar or pupa.

Prescribed fire during the winter encourages more plants to bloom during the following growing season, which is a benefit. Not a lot seems to be known about how to effectively manage prescribed fire with overwintering caterpillars and pupae. However, it is probably advisable to leave part of the area unburned to act as a refugia where the overwintering caterpillars and pupae may recolonize.

A planting focused on native butterflies, moths, and sphinx moths will include native wildflowers and a component of native grasses. Our Butterfly & Hummingbird Mix is designed with pollinators in mind, and it includes a large diversity of flowers. It’s a great choice when paired with the Companion Grass Mix. If aesthetics is a goal, a wildflower meadow mix can provide both habitat and beauty. (Read more about these mixes on the Wildflower Meadow page.)

wildlife and pollinators, hummingbird, Hamilton Native Outpost

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds migrate from their southern winter hideaway to spend the summer here zipping between flowers at lightning speed. A hummingbird may seem drawn to red flowers, but they happily sip nectar from flowers of other colors as well. They prefer flowers that are tubular in shape and flowers that are easy to approach while hovering. Soft-bodied insects are also part of the hummingbird’s diet.

To promote more flowers, consider a prescribed fire during winter. Since hummingbirds love flowers, a planting for them should focus on native wildflowers and include an element of grasses. Our Butterfly & Hummingbird Mix is designed with pollinators in mind, and it includes a large diversity of flowers. It’s a great choice when paired with the Companion Grass Mix. If aesthetics is a goal, a wildflower meadow mix can provide both habitat and beauty. (Read more about these mixes on the Wildflower Meadow page.)

wildlife and pollinators, honeybee, Hamilton Native Outpost

Honeybees

Honeybees are much loved for the sweet honey they produce. Since they are not native, a honeybee has no special need for native plants, but they do love many of the native plants. To produce honey throughout the season, it is important to keep flowers blooming from spring through fall.
Prescribed fire during the dormant season will encourage more plants to bloom the following growing season.
wildlife and pollinators, native bees, Hamilton Native Outpost

Native Bees

Bumble bees, sweat bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees, and many more are all native and have strong affinities for native plants and ecosystems. The diversity of bees that exists is surprising, with more than 400 species living in the state of Missouri alone! They all share a common need of food from flowers—pollen and nectar.

Some bees visit a wide variety of flowers, and for them it is important to have a diversity of these flowers so that pollen and nectar are available during the entire growing season.
However, about one-third of bees only visit the flowers of a single species of plant or a narrow group of plants (e.g. a genus or family of plants). Including as many plant species as is practical will help to provide for both these picky eaters and the generalists alike.

Native bees have varied needs as far as their shelter. Some dig tunnels in bare soil while others nest in hollow stems and yet others reside beneath the leaves of a bunchgrass. Prescribed fire can create bare ground for ground-nesting bees, but the blaze eliminates hollow stems and bunchgrass clumps that other bees need.

One way to provide bare ground and leave vegetation is to use prescribed fire on half or a third of the area each year, rotating the section that is burned. In addition to creating bare ground, a winter prescribed burn will promote more floral resources the following growing season.

Because the needs of native bees are so varied, you’ll want to choose a mix that has a large diversity of plants. Our Butterfly & Hummingbird Mix is designed with pollinators in mind, and it includes a large diversity of flowers. It’s a great choice when paired with the Companion Grass Mix. If aesthetics is a goal, a wildflower meadow mix can provide both habitat and beauty. (Read more about these mixes on the Wildflower Meadow page.)

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