Half-cutting mesquite trees to enhance loafing cover for quail

DALE ROLLINS, Texas Agricultural Extension Service, San Angelo, TX 76901

Suitable loafing coverts are often a limiting factor for quail, especially in the Rolling Plains and Trans-Pecos regions of the state. Quail typically select loafing cover between mid-morning (e.g., 10 a.m.) through mid-afternoon (e.g., 3 p.m.). The ideal loafing covert provides dense cover above (for protection from raptors) yet is open at ground (i.e., quail’s eye) level (for detection of ground-dwelling predators). The ideal loafing coverts are provided by lotebush (Ziziphus obtusifolia), sandplum (Prunus angustifolia), littleleaf sumac (Rhus microphylla) and similarly shaped species.

While some mature mesquite trees provide adequate loafing cover, multi-stemmed (i.e., regrowth) mesquite usually does not. However, the cover value of such mesquite can be enhanced via a process called “half-cutting.” Half-cutting seeks to transform a multi-stemmed mesquite into a “living brushpile.” The only equipment needed to half-cut mesquites is a limb saw (I prefer one of the folding-type models).

Select only those trees with smooth bark (typically less than 1.5 inches in diameter) and that have 6 to 10 stems. While pulling down with moderate pressure, score the limb with the saw at about waist-level. When you’ve sawed nearly half-way through, the limb should break over. Continue until all limbs are broken over into a wagon-wheel shaped arrangement. Depending on the tree, you may wish to leave one or two of the central limbs uncut to provide a conical shape to the tree.

To my knowledge, no studies have been conducted to determine the best time of year to half-cut mesquites to ensure the highest survival. Limbs tend to be quite brittle in late-winter and early spring; I’ve had good results with limbs that were half-cut in June, but you may wish to cut some trees in other months to ascertain which date(s) work best for your situation.

Don’t just cut a single tree. Cut 5 to 10 trees over the size of a basketball court in order to create “islands” of loafing coverts. Then move over about 200 yards and clone this configuration. You may wish to cut selected trees between “islands” to act as travel lanes.

Mesquites aren’t the only species of tree that can be half-cut. I’ve seen hackberry used before, but hackberries may be be browsed by cattle, and surely by deer.

Comments: Dale Rollins, Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist
Updated: Mar. 18, 1997

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