By Kevin, Pugh, Wildlife Biologist

How would you like to increase the available food for deer on your property or hunting club? What about increasing the strutting, bugging and nesting habitat for wild turkeys? Or, maybe you just enjoy bird watching and would like to increase the nesting and feeding habitat for migratory songbirds. The answer to these questions could be as simple as daylighting certain areas on your property.

First, what is daylighting? Daylighting is generally referred to in the wildlife profession as simply reducing, or cutting back, the tree canopy to allow sunlight to reach the ground. For most species of wildlife, this is extremely important. Most of the plant species that wildlife depend on for food, cover, and nesting, are usually low-growing and require ground level sunlight. This early successional habitat is extremely important for species such as deer, turkey, quail, rabbits and many songbirds.

Next, what areas do you need to daylight? Almost any area you open up will be beneficial for various wildlife species. However, there are two main areas where daylighting is most beneficial. The first area is around wildlife openings. Whether planting in the spring or fall, most people plant wildlife openings all the way up to the tree line. Much of the time, the edges of these openings don’t grow very well because they don’t receive enough sunlight. By trimming back the overhanging limbs and branches, you allow the sunlight to reach the ground. Instead of increasing the wildlife opening, this is a good place to leave a buffer zone around the opening. This buffer zone should be 20 to 30 feet wide and should be allowed to grow up in honeysuckle, blackberries, briars and native grasses.

To maintain this buffer zone at a usable level, simply rotationally mow or disc every two to three years. Mowing or disking one-third to one-half of the buffer zone each year will increase plant diversity, which should increase the attractiveness of the area to different species of wildlife. Maintaining native plants in these buffer zones will provide an additional source of food, nesting area, and cover for many species of wildlife and songbirds.

Another area where daylighting is beneficial is roadways. Roads are often overlooked except when in need of repair. By widening a property’s access roads, the available habitat for many wildlife species is greatly increased. Added benefits to widening the access roads are reducing maintenance cost, reducing drying times on roads following wet weather, and reducing scratches and damage to vehicles. Cutting back the roadsides by 10 to 20 feet on each side will greatly increase the available food, nesting area, and cover habitat on your property, while taking only a few acres. Daylighting one mile of road by 10 feet on each side would require less than 2.5 acres to implement. Fertilizing these areas will also help to increase growth and palatability of the plants growing there.

As mentioned earlier, native plant species should be kept at a desirable level by mowing or disking. Alternating the sides of the road manipulated each year will increase plant species diversity, which should increase the attractiveness of the area to different species of wildlife. Many species of wildlife, including deer, turkey and rabbits, will utilize the young growth for food. Turkeys, quail and many songbirds will utilize these open areas for feeding on seeds, berries and insects. These areas will be beneficial for all species to use for nesting and cover.

Daylighting around wildlife openings and roadways is very beneficial for most species of wildlife. It is a relatively inexpensive and easy way to increase food, nesting areas, and cover for many wildlife species. It will also help to reduce the scratches on arms, faces, and vehicles.