Habitat manipulation influences northern bobwhite resource selection on a reclaimed surface mine.
More than 600,000 ha of mine land have been reclaimed in the eastern United States, providing large contiguous tracts of early successional vegetation that can be managed for northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus). However, habitat quality on reclaimed mine land can be limited by extensive coverage of non-native invasive species, which are commonly planted during reclamation. We used discrete-choice analysis to investigate bobwhite resource selection throughout the year on Peabody Wildlife Management Area, a 3,330-ha reclaimed surface mine in western Kentucky. We used a treatment-control design to study resource selection at 2 spatial scales to identify important aspects of mine land vegetation and whether resource selection differed between areas with habitat management (i.e., burning, disking, herbicide; treatment) and unmanaged units (control). Our objectives were to estimate bobwhite resource selection on reclaimed mine land and to estimate the influence of habitat management practices on resource selection. We used locations from 283 individuals during the breeding season (1 Apr-30 Sep) and 136 coveys during the non-breeding season (1 Oct-Mar 31) from August 2009 to March 2014. Individuals were located closer to shrub cover than would be expected at random throughout the year. During the breeding season, individuals on treatment units used areas with smaller contagion index values (i.e., greater interspersion) compared with individuals on control units. During the non-breeding season, birds selected areas with greater shrub-open edge density compared with random. At the microhabitat scale, individuals selected areas with increased visual obstruction >1 m aboveground. During the breeding season, birds were closer to disked areas (linear and non-linear) than would be expected at random. Individuals selected non-linear disked areas during winter but did not select linear disked areas (firebreaks) because they were planted to winter wheat each fall and lacked cover during the non-breeding season. Individuals also selected areas treated with herbicide to control sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata) throughout the year. During the breeding season, bobwhites avoided areas burned during the previous dormant season. Habitat quality of reclaimed mine lands may be limited by a lack of shrub cover and extensive coverage of non-native herbaceous vegetation. Managers aiming to increase bobwhite abundance should focus on increasing interspersion of shrub cover, with no area >100 m from shrub cover. We suggest disking and herbicide application to control invasive species and improve the structure and composition of vegetation for bobwhites.