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Delay mowing roadsides until Aug. 1

Photo by Brian Hansel Delaying ditch mowing until Aug. 1 can lead to more ringnecks in the fall.

From April to August, there's a wildlife population boom along greater Minnesota's roadsides. Few passersby are aware of what the tall grass hides. And untimely mowing along rural roads and highways can turn that boom into a bust.

"This is the most important time for nesting wildlife," said Carmelita Nelson, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' roadsides for wildlife coordinator. "That's why we urge owners of land along Minnesota roads and highways to avoid mowing or otherwise disturbing the vegetation until after Aug. 1, when most species have completed their nesting season."

In Minnesota, roadside habitat provides hatching ground for about 25 percent of each year's pheasant brood. Roadsides also are important habitat for teal, mallards, gray partridge, many grassland songbirds, frogs and turtles.

"State law prohibits road authorities from mowing an entire right-of-way until July 31," Nelson said. "Private landowners may mow or hay the roadside adjacent to their property at any time, but they can help wildlife by waiting."

A nesting pheasant hen lays eggs at a rate of about one per day, resulting in nests that contain an average of 12 eggs. The incubation period of 23 days starts after all eggs have been laid. The hen remains on the nest during incubation, leaving only briefly to feed. If the nest is destroyed, the hen will repeatedly nest until she is successful in hatching a clutch, although re-nesting clutches have fewer eggs.

The pheasant hatch peaks about the third week of June, when about 60 percent of the eggs hatch. Depending on weather, many birds continue nesting into early July. Hens make from one to four attempts at nesting during the spring nesting season, but only hatch one brood per year.

The chicks need to be at least two to three weeks old to have any chance of escape from mowers. The reproductive season is over by Aug. 1 for most pheasants, with the exception of a few birds attempting late re-nesting.

Roadsides also should be protected from burning, crop tillage, grazing, blanket spraying of herbicides and vehicle encroachment during these months. The DNR recommends that landowners use spot mowing or spraying to treat noxious weeds.

Roadsides provide more than 500,000 acres of nesting areas in the pheasant range of southern and western Minnesota. Roadside habitat is especially important in intensively row-cropped regions where there is little other grassland available.