Spend Less Time in the Heat this Summer – for the Birds

Delayed mowing can help give nesting birds and deer a safe place to raise young

May 25, 2016, 12:41 pm | Adam Janke

AMES, Iowa – On these cool spring days, it’s easy to forget the approaching hot, humid days in store for Iowans this summer. The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach wildlife program offers the following recommendations for the impending hot summer days: avoid the heat by spending less time on the mower.

Mallard NestForgoing mowing in spring and delaying summer mowing allows sufficient time for Iowa’s breeding pheasants, quail, meadowlarks and 16 other common species of grassland-nesting birds to raise their young in nests they build during this time of the year.

Important grassland habitats for nesting birds and other species that raise their young there, like white-tailed deer, come in all shapes and sizes in Iowa’s landscape. Small patches in backyards or odd areas around fields, roadsides, ditches and hay fields can all provide important habitat, acting in many ways like the vast expanses of prairie that once covered our state. At present, most birds have begun building nests and laying and incubating their eggs. These parents-to-be are counting on the grass still being there at least through mid-July to raise their young enough to fly or run away from equipment in fields. Late-May and early-June is also peak fawning season for female deer, who will hide their young in grasses for the first few days of their life before they can effectively walk. Early mowing can kill these young birds or deer.

Landowners willing to delay mowing until July 15 or after, and ideally after Aug. 1, can rest assured the birds and other wildlife will make the most of their grassland habitats this summer. If mowing dates cannot be delayed, for example in hay fields, consider these recommendations for reducing potential impacts of mowing on wildlife:

  • Mow slowly and look ahead for fawns or fleeing broods of large conspicuous birds like pheasants, turkeys or ducks.
  • Have a flushing bar on the front of the tractor. Flushing bars are low bars with dangling chains that make it more likely for birds to flush off a nest before being passed over by the mower.
  • Don’t mow at night when birds will almost always be on the nest and are less likely to flush.
  • Start cuttings from the middle of the field to leave cover along the edge of the field where birds and deer can find other nearby habitats.
  • Allow five to six weeks for grass to grow back and birds to nest a second time after an early first cutting.

Closely-manicured lawns offer little habitat for nesting birds so are exempt from concerns about frequent or early mowing. However, if landowners with large yards are interested in making them more hospitable for birds, many resources are available online for improving landscape design for birds. If there is simply too much grass to manicure, consider leaving some this year to grow up for the birds next year.

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