Saturday, May 15

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Landowners encouraged to delay mowing to benefit wildlife, save fuel and save time

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[MAY 15, 2004]  SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois landowners are encouraged to delay mowing roadsides, ditches and grassy areas this spring and summer to benefit wildlife while saving time, fuel and money.

"Delaying mowing and letting grasslands grow until after Aug. 1 is the single most important thing private and public landowners can do to benefit all kinds of birds and other grassland wildlife," said Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Joel Brunsvold. "We encourage farmers and other rural landowners, as well as county, township and local highway and road commissioners and maintenance personnel, to leave roadsides, field edges and other grassy areas alone until after the nesting season."

Pheasants, quail and rabbits thrive in grassy fields, roadsides and ditches. Undisturbed grasslands also benefit mallard ducks and songbirds such as meadowlarks, dickcissels and grasshopper sparrows that nest in the tall native grasses and wildflowers seen in rural Illinois in the spring.

"Mowing grassy areas in the spring and early summer not only destroys nests and young birds or rabbits, but it may also kill or injure adults tending the nests," said John Cole, manager of the department's Upland Wildlife Development Program. "Pheasants may be nesting well into July, so delaying mowing until early August can help the pheasant hatch. Mowing is especially harmful to incubating birds close to hatching. Adults are reluctant to leave the nest even if approached by a tractor or mower."

In a long-term study of nesting pheasants conducted for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, 72 percent of all hens killed or injured on the nest were hit between June 10 and July 1.

Reducing mowing will save time, fuel and money at a time when gasoline and diesel fuel costs are rising. Limiting mowing until after Aug. 1 may also limit the spread of unwanted weeds.

 

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Grasses and legumes typically found in rural landscapes in Illinois grow most rapidly during the spring and fall. By not mowing, the rapid early growth of the grasses can limit the growth of competing species of weeds.

"Mowing in the spring and early summer can actually benefit the weeds," Cole said. "Since summer grass growth is slow, weeds may grow faster in those fields and ditches that are mowed. Weeds could get an additional boost if mowing scalps the grass in rough or irregular areas along roads or ditch banks. The scalping can expose the soil and create a perfect seed bed for annual weeds."

Areas that must be mowed along roads to reduce visual obstructions, improve water flow in ditches or maintain equipment access to fields can be spot mowed, while patches of weeds can be spot sprayed with herbicide.

"The cooperation of landowners is extremely important to grassland birds," Cole said. "While the Conservation Reserve Program has encouraged establishment of grasses and buffer strips, high-quality undisturbed nest cover is found on 1 percent or less of many rural landscapes in Illinois. Delayed mowing is crucial to maintain populations of ground-nesting wildlife."

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources operates a number of programs to assist landowners in the establishment and development of grassland for wildlife on rights of way and private lands. For more information, contact the Division of Wildlife Resources at (217) 782-6384.

[Illinois Department of Natural Resources
news release]

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