Grassy roadsides can be for the birds!
Although these ribbons of green make up only a small fraction of our land area, researchers have found them to be highly productive nesting sites for more than 40 kinds of birds and animals that nest on the ground or in low vegetation. Examples include pheasants, gray partridge, rabbits, waterfowl, and songbirds. Roadsides represent over 500,000 acres of permanent grassland in Minnesota’s pheasant range. Unfortunately, many thousands of nest and nest sites are destroyed annually in southern and western Minnesota because of disturbance to our roadsides during spring and summer (late April through early August).
Management plays a key role in how productive our roadsides will be for wildlife. Your help is needed to give wildlife the edge. Learn about planting native grasses.
Native prairie grasses and flowers in roadsides enhance wildlife habitat, provide long-term maintenance savings, increase water filtration, help catch snow and improve aesthetics.
Native grasses and flowers also help restore the tall grass prairie, an endangered ecological habitat.
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Roadsides for Wildlife Objectives
Roadsides with undisturbed native vegetation provide improved wildlife habitat, reduce long-term weed and erosion control costs, and improve water filtration into the soil. Native grasses and flowers are also very aesthetically pleasing.
Roadside Mowing Law
160.232 Mowing ditches outside cities.
(a) To provide enhanced roadside habitat for nesting birds and other small wildlife, road authorities may not mow or till the right-of-way of a highway located outside of a home rule charter or statutory city except as allowed in this section and section 160.23.
(b) On any highway, the first eight feet away from the road surface, or shoulder if one exists, may be mowed at any time.
(c) An entire right-of-way may be mowed after July 31. From August 31 to the following July 31, the entire right-of-way may only be mowed if necessary for safety reasons, but may not be mowed to a height of less than 12 inches.
(d) A right-of-way may be mowed as necessary to maintain sight distance for safety and may be mowed at other times under rules of the commissioner, or by ordinance of a local road authority not conflicting with the rules of the commissioner.
(e) A right-of-way may be mowed, burned, or tilled to prepare the right-of-way for the establishment of permanent vegetative cover or for prairie vegetation management.
(f) When feasible, road authorities are encouraged to utilize low maintenance, native vegetation that reduces the need to mow, provides wildlife habitat, and maintains public safety.
(g) The commissioner of natural resources shall cooperate with the commissioner of transportation to provide enhanced roadside habitat for nesting birds and other small wildlife.
HIST: 1985 c 127 s 2; 1986 c 398 art 27 s 1; 1989 c 179 s 1; 1Sp2005 c 1 art 2 s 137
How can you or your local organization become involved in roadside management?
Delay roadside mowing of the ditch bottom and back slope until after August 1st.
Use spot treatment to manage sites for noxious weed control, safety, and snow drifting.
Avoid indiscriminate roadside burning.
Roadsides mowed after September 1st should be clipped "high".
Urge your local road management officials to adopt policies that will preserve and enhance roadsides for wildlife.
Free Roadsides for Wildlife Signs
The sign notifies passers-by that this roadside is left undisturbed for nesting wildlife, such as pheasants, gray partridge, waterfowl, and grassland songbirds. Undisturbed nesting cover is especially crucial during the nesting period of May, June, and July.
Sign should be faced perpendicular to the roadway and be mounted on a post, private fence, etc. At least 4 feet from the ground to assure good visibility.*
*Do not place signs within any portion of the road right-of-way including the roadside ditch nor on any fences owned by the road authority. If you have any questions about placement, please contact your local road officials.
Living Snow Fences
Living snow fences are another way to enhance roadsides for wildlife. These linear shrub plantings and prairie grass snow catch areas provide significant nesting and brood cover for pheasants and other birds. Living snow fences are eligible for continuous CRP signup. In addition, local or state road authorities may provide additional cost share payments and incentive payments.
For More Information on Living Snow Fences contact:
Dan Gullickson, Mn/DOT Forester
Mn/DOT Living Snow Fence Web site:
To view additional sources of information and success stories visit the following Web sites:
For more information or assistance:
Roadsides are for the Birds youth poster contest
Benefits of delaying roadside mowing - Singing Roadsides Public Service Announcement 1,173K MP3
Posters and publications are available by contacting
For more information on Roadsides For Wildlife:
Roadsides for Wildlife information is brought to you through a joint project of the Minnesota DNR and Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Environmental Services.