Roadside landowners can give wildlife a helping hand by delaying mowing until Aug. 1, when most bird species have completed nesting.
Grassy roadsides are vital habitat for many birds and small animals, according to Carmelita Nelson, Roadsides for Wildlife coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). These narrow ribbons of vegetation provide food, cover, and nesting habitat for thousands of pheasants, partridges, rabbits, ground nesting waterfowl and grassland songbirds.
“Late April until early August is Minnesota’s primary nesting season,” Nelson said. “Birds and other species benefit when landowners don’t mow during this time.”
Nelson recommends precision spraying or spot mowing to address noxious weed problems.
Though private landowners can mow their own roadside anytime, provided they own the land and the road is an easement, state law does restrict “road authorities” from mowing until Aug. 1.
The “Mowing Ditches Outside Cities” law (Minn. Statute 160.232) has been in place since May 17, 1985. It allows road authorities to mow the first 8 feet and intersections for safety and to spot mow for noxious weed control. Farmers must obtain permission from adjacent landowners to hay additional roadsides.
In general, state and federal lands adjacent to the roadway do not permit private haying in their roadsides without special permission from the public land manager (parks, wildlife lands, etc.).
For safety reasons, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) permits are required to hay interstate highway rights-of-way as well as noninterstate roadway medians. MnDOT offices in the St. Cloud and Baxter areas require a permit to hay along all state and interstate highways within their jurisdiction. Where hay is cut along roadsides, hay bales must be removed from the right-of-way before sunset on the same day they are baled.
Habitat loss is the main threat to wildlife and general biodiversity worldwide. Management decisions and practices along roadsides can make a dramatic difference to local wildlife populations, Nelson noted. “Roadsides will not replace the need for large blocks of prairie, but roadside vegetation provides important parcels grassland habitat and serves to interconnect larger grasslands for native species,” she said.
Roadsides provide more than one-half million acres of vital nesting areas in the southern and western half of Minnesota. Roadside habitat is especially important in intensively farmed regions where there is little other grassland available.
For more information about the Roadsides for Wildlife Program, see the DNR Web site or contact the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll free 1-888-646-6367.
A chart showing nesting dates for song birds and game birds is available online.