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Wildlife Habitat

Legumes for Wildlife

Home | Key to Life | Wildlife Cover | Solutions | Planting |

There are 4 areas of consideration when dealing with solutions: acreages, Farm Ponds, Shelter Belts and Yards.

Legumes have long been recognized as a valuable component of wildlife habitat. Legumes are utilized by many different wildlife species and provide essential cover for different life stages of wildlife. Some legumes, such as partridge pea and lespedeza, are an important food source for upland birds. Not only do legumes directly benefit wildlife, but the indirect benefits are there as well. Legume's short and long range benefits to the soil are very important, considering that all living things are dependent on the fertility of the soil for their own well-being.

Nitrogen is needed by all plants for growth. Legumes living together with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, called rhizobia, have the ability to transform atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen in the soil for the plants to use. Legumes alsoprovide organic matter to the soil as well as providing cover to reduce soil erosion.

There are a large number of legumes that are valuable to wildlife and these can be divided into those that are native to this country and those that are introduced.

Native legumes common to this area:
  • partridge pea
  • Illinois bundle-flower
  • purple and white prairie clover
  • leadplant
  • Canada milkvetch
  • American deervetch
  • Trailing wildbean
  • wild licorice
  • scurf pea

Only partridge pea, Illinois bundle-flower, and purple prairie clover can be purchased commercially in this area.

Introduced legumes common to this area:
  • alfalfa
  • sweetclover
  • red clover
  • white clover
  • alsike clover
  • crownvetch
  • hairy vetch
  • cicer milkvetch
  • birdsfoot trefoil
  • roundhead lespedeza
  • Korean lespedeza

These are all available commercially in Nebraska.

Establishment of Legumes

When establishing legumes for wildlife, the following areas should be considered:

  • intended use
  • species selection
  • seedbed preparation and seeding methods
  • Intended use

Selecting a legume or legumes for a wildlife planting will depend on the type of habitat you want to create. Taller legumes such as alfalfa, sweetclover, hairy vetch and sericea lespedeza provide cover for roosting, loafing, escape cover and winter protection. Medium height legumes such as alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil and red clover are especially valuable as nesting cover, but they will also attract insects providing a high protein food source for young bird chicks. Short legumes such as birdsfoot trefoil and white clover are used by birds and mammels as loafng areas.

It should be noted that many legumes, especially introduced legumes, are grown for forage and hay crops. The time of the first cutting on these legumes coincides with the peak nesting of upland birds. When these fields are cut at this time, many birds and nests are destroyed. To prevent this high mortality of upland birds, the first cutting should be delayed until after the 5th of July. The quality of the forage may suffer, but the benefit to wildlife will certainly be enhanced.

Legumes to be used for ground cover on eroded sites and steep banks might include crownvetch, hairy vetch, birdsfoot trefoil and white and red clover.

Species Selection

There are many different varieties of legumes and selecting one depends on the location, soil, climate and other factors. To get the variety best suited for your area, contact the local county agent or extension office. They will be able to help you select the correct varieties or direct you to someone who can.

There are a few important items to consider when selecting seed:

  • Buy certified seed
  • Use adapted and resistant stock, seed that is adapted to the local climate and resistant to certain diseases
  • Innoculate your seed with the correct innoculant before seeding.

Seeded Preparation and Seeding Method

Seedbed preparation can be by either of two methods: clean seedbed and mulch seedbed. The clean seedbed method entails cultivating the soil by plowing, disking or dragging to insure a level uniform seedbed. The mulch seedbed method entails planting into a small grain stubble field or lightly disking a stubble field to leave a layer of mulch on the seedbed. This is a good method on steep and eroded lands. A variation of the mulch method would be to plant the legume with a companion or nurse crop such as oats or wheat. The legume and companion crop are seeded at the same time. At maturity, the companion crop is harvested leaving a stubble that protects the small legumes seedlings.

Some legumes can be planted by broadcast seeding and others by use of a seeder or drill. The drill is the better of the two methods especially if the drill has depth bands and packer wheels. These devices will place the seed at a specified and uniform depth in the soil and then pack the soil around the seed.

This just touches on the benefits to wildlife through the establishment of legumes. For more detailed information, contact your local extension office, University of Nebraska Agronomy department or the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

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