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Roadsides are important habitat for pheasants and pollinators

A rooster pheasant explored a ditch west of Deer Creek on a May morning. Roadside habitat is considered vital for pheasants and many other species of wildlife.

People who own or manage land along Minnesota roads and highways are urged to delay roadside mowing until the beginning of August, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"A quarter to a third of all the pheasants in the state are hatched in roadsides," said Nicole Davros, DNR upland game project leader. "Roadsides provide more than 500,000 acres of nesting and chick-rearing habitat in southern and western Minnesota."

This year, pheasants will be hatching mostly in early- to mid-June. Chicks need at least two to three weeks to have any chance of escape from mowers. While mowing can delay or prevent nesting, so can other disturbances including burning, tilling, grazing and spraying herbicides.

"People can influence the abundance of local wildlife populations by protecting roadside habitat in the summer months," Davros said. "Roadside vegetation is especially important in intensively row cropped regions where there is little other undisturbed grassland habitat available."

At sites where noxious weeds are a problem, the DNR recommends that landowners use spot mowing or spraying for treatment. If landowners are worried about traffic safety, mowing should be limited to a narrow strip adjacent to their mailbox or driveway to reduce the likelihood of disturbing a nest or brood.

Pheasant hens will make from one to four attempts at nesting during the spring nesting season, but will only hatch one brood per year. The majority of nests (about 60 percent) hatch in June, but re-nesting attempts can stretch the nesting season out through July. By Aug. 1, the reproductive season is over for most pheasants with the exception of a few late re-nesting attempts.

A nesting hen lays eggs at a rate of about one per day. Nests contain an average of 10 to 12 eggs. The incubation period is 23 to 28 days and starts after all eggs have been laid. The hen remains on the nest, leaving only briefly to feed.

Wide-ranging benefits of roadside habitat

Roadsides also provide important habitat for mallards, teal, gray partridge, grassland songbirds, pollinators, frogs and turtles.

Roadsides with native wildflowers benefit native bees. Research has shown that the width of the roadside and the proximity to traffic does not matter to bees. Minnesota bee keepers place a high value on roadside wildflowers. Loss of habitat is a critical cause of the decline in both wild bees and honeybees.

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