"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
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
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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
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."
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)
Department of Natural Resources