Roadsides for wildlife

Drawing: Native grasses along a roadway.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.

Photo: Native grasses along a roadway. Sign: Roadsides for Wildlife sign

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.

Posters and publications available from the DNR Information Center

Roadsides for Wildlife Objectives:

  • Reduce the disturbance (haying) of roadside vegetative cover until after August 1.
  • Incorporate native prairie species in roadside plantings.
  • Explain the benefits of a diverse and undisturbed roadside environment.

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.

Getting involved

How can you or your local organization become involved in roadside management?

  • If you’re a rural landowner, consider how you can improve management of your adjacent roadsides for wildlife.
  • Encourage other landowners and local road authorities to reduce mowing and haying during the nesting season.
  • Offer local road authorities cost share assistance and/or management assistance in the incorporation of new or re-vegetated roadsides projects in your organization’s area.
  • Invite local road authorities to organization events and discuss roadside management plans and opportunities to partner on roadside projects. For example, helping develop and manage living snow fence projects in your area can provide significant wildlife habitat, and increased highway safety benefits.


Delay roadside mowing of the ditch bottom and back slope until after August 1st.
Reason: Each species of wildlife has its own nesting habits including when and how many times they rear young each year. As a result, undisturbed roadside cover receives almost continuous nesting use from spring until late summer. By delaying roadside disturbance until after August 1, nests for most species can hatch successfully. A mowed strip along the shoulder is not damaging to nesting wildlife because most nests occur in the ditch bottom or back slope. Other disturbance factors which should be avoided include "blanket" spraying, vehicle and tractor encroachment, and grazing. If possible, leave roadsides undisturbed year around.

Use spot treatment to manage sites for noxious weed control, safety, and snow drifting.
Reason: Where noxious weed control is needed, spot-spraying is preferred because it leaves cover intact, is less costly, and there is less chance of causing nest destruction or abandonment. Spot mowing and/or shoulder mowing may be necessary for improved sight-distance or snow drift control. Complete roadside mowing is costly and often unnecessary.

Avoid indiscriminate roadside burning.
Reason: Under prescribed conditions, burning can be an effective wildlife management tool. However, widespread and indiscriminate burning of roadsides may remove much needed residual cover as well as valuable roosting and escape cover.

Roadsides mowed after September 1st should be clipped "high".
Reason: A minimum of 10 to 12 inches of erect, residual cover is vitally needed for next year's early nesters. Residual can also provide some roosting and escape cover.

Urge your local road management officials to adopt policies that will preserve and enhance roadsides for wildlife.

Free Roadsides for Wildlife Signs
This sign will help preserve an important wildlife nesting habitat -- rural roadsides. They are available for placement on private property along roadsides managed as wildlife cover.

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.

Image of a Clear Road Image of a blowing Road

Inside the living snow fence protection area

Outside the living snow fence protection area

For More Information on Living Snow Fences
Contact: Dan Gullickson, Mn/DOT Forester or 651-366-3610
Mn/DOT Living Snow Fence Web site:

Additional Resources

To view additional sources of information and success stories visit the following Web sites:

Literature review prepared by the U of M This link leads to an external site.

For more information or assistance:
DNR Roadsides for Wildlife Program
261 Highway 15 South
New Ulm, MN 56073-8915
tel. 507-359-6000
fax 507-359-6018

For more information on Roadsides For Wildlife
Contact: Carmelita Nelson, DNR Roadsides for Wildlife Coordinator or 651-259-5014

For cost-share projects, prairie planting, prescribed burn, and equipment coordination contact 507-225-3572

For brochures, free roadside signs, annual youth poster contest, and nest box info contact 507-359-6035

[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.]