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By Sean Hubbard
In front of any good bird hunter is a dog sniffing and pointing out where the birds are hiding. Just like the trusty bird dog, most predators rely on smell to locate their prey.
Wildlife management efforts and studies of wildlife habitat selection have traditionally focused on how visual characteristics of habitat conceal animals from predators. However, research being conducted through Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management (NREM) smells a little different than the norm.
“We are studying whether concealment of scent contributes to where Northern Bobwhite place their nests and to whether nests are found by scent-based predators like opossums, raccoons and armadillos,” said Dillon Fogarty, second-year NREM graduate student.
Fogarty is beginning his second season of the study, which is being conducted on the 11,000-acre McFarlin-Ingersoll Ranch near Inola, Okla. Win Ingersoll and his wife, Kay, have hosted state, regional and national qualifying bird dog field trials on their ranch for 50 years.
A true OSU family, with both Win and Kay, and their two daughters having attended, the Ingersolls offered their ranch as a site for the research and provided the funding for the project.
“We’ve always had plenty of wild birds, and then all of a sudden they were gone,” said Win. “They’re on the comeback a little now, but it’s sure slow.”
The research is geared to help understand the mechanisms driving success when it comes to managing land for quail.
“If we understand those mechanisms, we can better manage the habitat,” Fogarty said. “Researchers and managers don’t just need to understand what is going on, but to also figure out why it’s going on.”
To do so, Fogarty locates nests by capturing quail using funnel traps, radio-collars them and tracks them through the breeding season. Once nest sites are located, they are monitored to see if chicks are successfully hatched.
After nests fledge or fail, many traditional measurements of visual concealment are taken. The scent concealment portion of the research is conducted through the use of a 3-dimenstion sonic anemometer, which measures air velocity, turbulence and updraft.
“These three factors are crucial to whether bird scent follows a predictable path near the ground or wavers back and forth unpredictably and up and out of the reach of predator noses,” said Scott Loss, NREM assistant professor and advisor to Fogarty.
Dwayne Elmore, OSU Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist and Bollenbach Chair in Wildlife management, also is collaborating on this project, which began in the fall of 2014 and will continue through fall 2016.
“We have already found that vegetation features create a large amount of variation in air currents,” Fogarty said. “The information generated from this project will not only provide basic understanding of the ecology of scent, but will help change the way we think about wildlife habitat.”