Animal Home Ranges and Territories

  • Blog Post by: T.R. Michels
  • May 18, 2012 - 10:53 PM

Before I forget, I need to add some bird sightings to my "Backyard Bird Sightings" list. Today I saw my first hen Wood Duck on one of the ponds, and I heard House Wren, Gray Catbird and saw a gull, probably Ring-billed Gull.

And last month, my wife Diane saw a group of jake (one-year-old) turkeys, evident by their shorter outer tail feathers and a beard that sticks almost straight out from their chest. So add five birds to my last count.


Animal Home Ranges: An explanation of what they are and what to expect to find in them.  

After studying game animal home ranges since 1989 and songbird territories for the last few years. I've realized that most predatory and prey species, be they terrestrial or aquatic, have what scientists refer to as "home ranges".

We may call them Lifetime Home Range, Annual Home Range or Seasonal Home Range, but the fact is that many animals, (especially those we hunt and many birds) have home ranges, where they spend the majority of their time during their life, and during particular seasons of the year (those seasons being winter, spring, summer, fall). What determines if and when they use different seasonal home ranges is appropriate thermal cover and escape cover for the temperatures/windchills and predatory pressure of each season, available forage sources during those seasons and available water sources.

During cold winter months, the windchill factor makes animals seek cover that will give them protection form rain, wind and low windchill factors, usually wooded areas of large enough a. to reduce the windchill (or areas within timber on the downwind side of hill, where the animals can get out of the wind) b. to provide security cover for the animals, (which usually means ground cover dense enough that the animals cannot see into the open areas around the wooded areas), Obviously the thermal and security needs of larger animals means they utilize larger areas of woods or cover than smaller animals.

During warmer summer months, the animals may prefer more open areas, where they can get out of the heat using the shade of wooded areas (but without a lot of ground cover, thereby allowing the wind to create a lower Heat Index through its cooling effect), or areas open to the wind (so they can take advantage of its cooling effect), or damp/ wet areas, where they can take advantage o f the cooling properties of water. If animals use one areas during warm spells, they often prefer large one area, where they can see, hear or smell possible danger before it gets too close to them.

No matter what time of year it is, most terrestrial animals have to have access to water and forage.

Once the animals have found areas suitable to use for each season, they prefer to stay within boundaries of that area - meaning they sty within the area hat they are unfamiliar. If an animal leaves its known range for that time of the year, it may be entering areas where it does not know where the trails, thermal and escape cover, forge and water sources are - which leaves it vulnerable to predation.

What this boils down to is the by the time an animal is about 1 year old, due to its being shown around by its mother, and being curios enough to check unknown things out, most animals are intimately familiar with their home range, to the point that they may notice when even a small sapling or a few branches have been cut off of a larger tree. To give you an example: While I was hunting a property in Eagen a few years ago, a group of runners inadvertently ran down the lightly used nighttime trail that ran across a hayfield (grass) and right underneath my stand. After the deer smelled and saw this change, it took them 7 days to begin using that trail again.

So, when we alter the habitat for our purposes (such as the hunting season, or even ease of access) it may take the animals a few days to become accustomed to these changes. If you brush out shooting lanes, or put up a stand or a blind – let it sit several days before using it. Generally speaking, the animals will spook the first time they see or smell it. They may, turn around and go back the way they cam, or they may give it a wide birth. Or they may use that area earlier or later than normal, in an effort to avoid it. But, they probably won’t act normal for a few days. As I said, in order to be intimately familiar with their habitat, security measures demand that they get curious, and sooner or later check out this new thing in their area, or any vegetation that has been altered. And – if it offers no threat, they will begin using that area again.

One other thing we can expect to find in home ranges are preferred trails or travel routes to and from their bedding/rest areas to their forging area, and possibly other trails from the forage areas back to the bedding / rest areas.

If you are hunting one of these animals, two of the best things you can do are to 1. learn during what meteorological conditions the animals will move, and at what hours, and 2. Learn where the trails and travel routes are. Once you have done this you will be better prepared to setup in an area where you are likely to see it on a semi-regular basis, to simply observe, photograph or hunt the animals.

If you do not know the meteorological conditions when waterfowl, turkeys, white-tailed deer and elk will be active, you can p0urchse a copy of one of my books, or "Game Animal Activity Indexes", from the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products catalog on our website at

www.TRMichels. If you have questions feel free to logon to the T.R.’ Tips Outdoor and Hunting Talk Forum, where I try to answer every question post there personally. And where you can get ideas and advice from the other people too. We have a great group of men women and youngsters on our Talk Forum.

Note: My wife always asks me to carry the milk, because she says it is too heavy for her, I think it is j ust because she can't hold on to it. I mean - have you ever tried to carry milk - it slips right throughg your fingers!!!

I’ll talk about the difference between home ranges and territories in Part 2 of this series

Enjoy God’s Great Outdoors, take a child, family member or friend along on an outdoor adventure, and may God bless you and your family and friends,


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