The solution (not mowing roadside ditches) is so simple and yet how many people even consider it as a way to protect wildlife and pollinators?
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is urging all Minnesotans to delay mowing roadside ditches until Aug. 1. That date was chosen because it’s the time when pheasants have completed their nesting. Up to one-third of all pheasants in the state are hatched in the grassy areas of roadside ditches, mainly in western and central Minnesota. Altogether, when added up, ditches comprise in excess of 500,000 acres of nesting habitat for various birds.
Pheasants start to hatch in early June, and so they need up to three weeks to have a chance to escape the deadly blades of mowers. Ditches are especially vital to birds and other creatures when there is heavily cropped regions and virtually no other grassland for miles and miles.
If landowners find noxious weeds in ditches are a problem, the DNR suggests careful spot-mowing spraying those weed areas sparingly, selectively. If people who live by country ditches are concerned about safety hazards, the DNR recommends they mow just a narrow path next to mailboxes or driveways. That would greatly reduce the chance of disturbing any nesting going on.
In a summer season, pheasants do up to four attempts to successfully nest, but they hatch only one brood each year. About 60 percent of nests hatch in June. However, attempts to re-nest can last through July. That is why the DNR strongly recommends not mowing ditches or at least not mowing them excessively.
But there are many other good reasons to adopt a no-mow policy. Those reasons include grassland songbirds, mallards, teal, gray partridges, rabbits, frogs, turtles, bees, butterflies and a host of other pollinators who can thrive on wildflowers or milkweed in ditches. The loss of natural habitat, including grassy ditches, is a major reason why populations of so many animals and insects have been declining.
Another DNR suggestion is to plant native prairie grasses and wildflowers in ditches and elsewhere. Doing so not only enhances wildlife habitat, but it provides water filtration, helps catch blowing snow and enhances aesthetic values. Planting such grasses and flowers in areas of residential lawns is also a powerful boost to the survival of bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
There is a wealth of good online material on how to make a friendlier world for our fellow creatures, and the suggestions are simple and very do-able with expenditures of very little or no money or time.
To find out more, visit the excellent website at www.mndnr.gov/roadsidesforwildlife.