Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prairie Burn

Today marked the (mostly-)annual burn of the 5+ acre Habitat Home prairie. There wasn't much wind, so the burn was not as "exciting" as it sometimes is, but the grasses were quite thick following the good season last year, so everything burned quite well.

Although it looks like it could be dangerous, and you always have to respect fire, we are always very careful and methodical about our burns. We always start burning from the downwind side, creating slow-burning firebreak extensions to the existing natural breaks around the perimeter of the field, and have a crew armed with flappers and a roving water tank. The video above (about two and a half minutes) shows a couple of scenes from the more upwind side where the wind, such as it was, pushed the fire a bit more aggressively. Note the smoke in the background where the firebreak fire is burning slowly upwind.

Grass fires were a common, natural occurrence in the North American Prairie. Burning is very beneficial to native grasses: it can promote seed germination, it kills competing species (e.g., trees, shrubs, and non-native, invasive plants), it releases nutrients into the soil, and opens the ground up for light and warming that encourages new growth. Following a burn, we often see more owls and hawks around the perimeter of the field, where they have an easier time spotting mice, voles, and snakes moving around.

The prairie field is an important part of Habitat Home. The tall grasses - mostly Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum), Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) - and forbs provide seed, nectar, and cover for a variety of insects, butterflies, birds, and small mammals. There are so few acres of prairie left in Illinois that every little bit helps!

All in all, a successful burn!

p.s. I apologize for the black frame, rather than the first content frame, in the initial view in the video window above. This has been happening for the past six weeks or so. It appears that google is trying to discourage blogger-resident videos and get us to use youtube. They don't force it, they don't say it, they just make it increasingly inconvenient to upload and use videos in blogger. Bother!


  1. Awesome. I really enjoy reading about Habitat Home. It is a nice way to leave my world behind and relax a bit reading about your world. And the pictures are very,very nice.

  2. Good burn! How does the birdhouse survive??

  3. Last year the bluebird house was actually on fire, we had to call out the bluebird-housefire department who quickly doused it. That fire left the house well charred, but the birds didn't seem to mind. This year I cut the grass down inside a 5' radius, but it's still amazing that the house was only smoking a little after those flames raced through there, as seen near the beginning of the video.