DNR Q & A: Roadside ditches equal prime nesting habitat

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources field staff, resource managers and the DNR Information Center staff answer many questions every day about natural resources topics. Here is one of them:

Q. Why is it important not to disturb roadside ditches during the spring and summer?

A. Roadside ditches are highly productive nesting sites, and they provide some of the most valuable wildlife habitat available in the state.
More than 40 kinds of birds and animals nest on the ground or in low vegetative cover. Wildlife that nest in these areas include pheasants, gray partridge, rabbits, waterfowl and songbirds. Because each species has its own nesting habits — when and how many times per year they rear young — this habitat type receives continuous use from spring until late summer.
Unfortunately, thousands of nesting sites are destroyed annually due to haying, off-highway vehicle traffic, crop encroachment, blanket spraying and herbicide drift from adjacent fields. These disturbances can occur at any time, but they have the most impact during June when hens are on the nest raising young.
Planting native prairie vegetation would help alleviate most nest disturbances because a ditch would not need to be hayed until crops are harvested at the end of the nesting season. Native prairie plants, once established, also reduce the presence of weeds and are better suited for producing wildlife.

— Pete Schaefer, DNR wildlife technician

For more information, call the DNR information line at 296-6157 or go to the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

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