Land Management Recommendations For Grassland Birds
Efforts in the West Virginia Eastern Panhandle focus on several bird species who have had significant population declines since the late 1960’s:
- Northern Bobwhite Quail
- Ring-necked Pheasant
- Eastern Meadowlark
- Vesper Sparrow
- Grasshopper Sparrow
- Henslow’s Sparrow
Did You Know: Less than 1% of the 1966 population of Bobwhite and Vesper Sparrow exist in the state of WV today.
What You Can Do
A few simple management changes can help these birds that call these grassland habitats home. An added perk: these practices also benefit butterflies, dragonflies, beneficial insects, amphibians, and mammals! See the list below, in order from simple to more involved actions to help:
Reduce mowing. If you have acreage that is not in hay production, do not mow it. If you are going to mow at all, wait until July 15, at the earliest! This will allow some of these species to successfully fledge their first nests of young. Mowing should not be done after March 1 as some of these species are already seeking out a nesting site within the fields that meet their needs.
Wait until early or mid-October to mow. This allows second nesting attempts to succeed as well as allow for the young of Northern Bobwhite Quail to mature to a point where they can more easily survive away from the tall grass cover of the fields.
Mow plots once every 4-5 years to keep woody plants from encroaching and taking over the grasslands. Again, waiting to mow until late in the fall would be best for the nesting birds and other wildlife that call these fields home. Again, do not mow after early March as some of these grassland species are already looking for nesting sites in areas that meet their needs.
Rotational mowing. If you do have land that is in hay production you might consider leaving some acreage for wildlife. Harvesting the hay from portions of the land while leaving some areas standing would also help these beleaguered species in their struggle to survive. The next year you would harvest the land that was left standing and leave last year’s harvested land alone to grow.
BEST OF ALL: Convert the land to warm-season grasses. This is an intensive job, but help is available! PVAS can help interested landowners with the task. The West Virginia Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) can help offset some of the costs associated with the conversion to warm-season grasses and with preparing the land and planting the grasses. We encourage the use of appropriate wildflower mixes to be added to the warm-season grass mix to appeal to a wider spectrum of wildlife species. The NRCS requires that plots be 25 acres or larger to be considered for this program.
With all of these management practices, the more square or round the plot the better. Long, narrow plots are easily hunted by Red Fox, Coyote, Raccoons, feral cats, and dogs. The larger the plot, the harder it is for these predators to effectively cover it in its entirety. This gives the nesting birds and other wildlife a better chance of survival.
- Mow after early October, but before early March.
- Harvest hay after July 15 to allow most species to have at least one successful nesting.
- Wait to harvest hay until early to mid-October to allow second nests to succeed and give Bobwhite young a chance to mature.
- Larger square or circular plots are better to reduce predation.
- Conversion to warm-season grasses is a 3-4 year project. Warm-season grasses are more drought-tolerant than cool-season grasses and provide better forage for domestic animals.
PVAS is here to answer questions and help you manage your land for these precious grassland species.