Roadsides for Wildlife
The land adjacent to roadways is important for providing permanent grassland habitat for birds, small animals, butterflies, frogs, and flowers. Though narrow, these roadsides are long on potential. They are most important in landscapes where there is little grassland habitat.
More than 40 bird species use roadsides for nesting. Another 60-plus species of birds use this area for food and cover. Many small mammals spend part of their life cycle in roadside habitats. Converting roadside vegetation to native prairie reduces deer grazing in ditches. Butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects use roadside wildflowers.
High-quality roadside habitat is composed of a variety of native grasses and wildflowers of varying heights. These plants provide natural cover and food. The grassland bird-nesting season is from April to early August. Therefore, roadside vegetation should be left undisturbed during this time—meaning no mowing or vehicle traffic.
Prairies are sometimes called upside-down forests because much of the plant and animal life is below ground. Many prairie plants have roots 5 to 15 feet deep. These deep roots improve water quality by increasing absorption and reducing runoff. They decrease erosion by anchoring soil. They require minimal maintenance. Prairie plants also sequester carbon and reduce the potential for invasive species.
What Can I Do to Improve Roadside Habitat?
-Delay mowing or haying until August 1
This will prevent mowing equipment from harming egg-filled nests, hens, and chicks.
The first 8 feet of the shoulder can be mowed regularly for safety.
Roadsides that have not been mowed for three years have up to three times as many nests per acre as those mowed annually. Mowing every three years is sufficient to control brush. Mow grass high to leave cover over winter. Vehicles disturb nesting birds.
-Spot mow and spot spray
This type of weed control is less likely to harm native plants and wildlife. Avoid all petroleum-based pesticides. These may stick to an egg, reduce air transfer through the shell membrane and kill the embryo.
High-quality roadside habitat is composed of a variety of native grasses and wildflowers of varying heights. Together, these plants provide natural cover and food. The grassland bird-nesting season is from April to early August. Therefore, roadside vegetation left undisturbed—no mowing or vehicle traffic—is beneficial to wildlife.
Establish a native prairie, a living snow fence, or rain gardens on adjacent property. Use local ecotype native prairie seed. Install and maintain well-placed nest boxes.
Information obtained from Minnesota DNR website, "Roadsides for Wildlife" program.