We’ve all heard of the K.I.S.S. principle - Keep it Simple, Stupid. Well, here’s a new one to help you with your bird habitat management: the K.I.M.M. principle - Keep It Messy, Mate.
The term “habitat complexity” refers to the variety of food and shelter resources available for birds and other wildlife in a given patch of vegetation. In simple terms, it refers to the “messiness” of the vegetation.
Less complex habitats have a simple structure with few layers of vegetation (e.g. a scattered tree layer plus grassy ground layer, but few or no shrubs). Simple habitats generally have a lower diversity of plant species and little or no accumulation of logs and litter (fallen leaves, twigs, etc.) on the ground.
Complex habitats contain a greater variety of places for many different animals to live, breed and feed. They include a number of vegetation layers (complex structure), usually a large variety of plant species and abundant logs and litter on the ground.
In many agricultural landscapes, there is a tendency to “clean up” complex vegetation patches by removing shrubs, dead trees and logs to make livestock, weed and pest management easier. Logs, dead trees and shrubs are often viewed as “messy” - hence the principle Keep it Messy, Mate.
This tendency to clean up is sometimes referred to as “habitat simplification”. Such activities reduce the suitability of these habitats for birds that are dapted to life in the shrubby layer, or those that feed on the insects and small reptiles that live amongst logs and leaf litter.
It also removes potential homes for those species, such as parrots and owls that nest in hollows in old and dead trees.
Another form of habitat simplification occurs when native pastures are replaced by introduced pastures or crops. Native grasslands and grassy woodlands, whilst having a simple structure, usually contain a wide variety of plant species and growth forms (grasses, herbs, creepers, etc.) in the ground layer. The more diverse that ground layer, the more birds and other animals it is likely to provide homes and food for. When these native pastures are replaced by “improved” pasture or crops containing only one or a few plant types, the diversity of native flora is diminished and fewer bird species can survive in the long term.
- Manage 10% of the property to provide core wildlife habitat
- Try to maintain habitat values in all vegetation types on the property
- Apply the KIMM principle - retain “messy” areas of bush with complex vegetation structure
- Protect habitat areas by fencing to control grazing pressure
- Resist the temptation to “clean up” logs and shrubby understorey
- If removing logs and rocks from paddocks, place them in bush areas to provide more habitat
- Allow regrowth shrubs and ground layer to establish in areas that have been “cleaned up”
- Re-establish understorey and ground layer by planting indigenous shrubs and grasses