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Best Management Practices for Grassland Birds

Grassland habitat
Leaving grasslands undisturbed from
April through August allows grassland
nesting birds time to raise their young.

These Best Management Practices (BMPs) should be used to guide habitat management on grassland habitat or habitat to be converted into grassland. The management goal of these BMPs is to maintain the open, grassy conditions necessary for successful breeding by grassland birds and to avoid disturbance to nesting birds. Techniques to be used may include seeding, mowing, and removal of trees and shrubs. Typically, land should be managed for a minimum of 5 years to begin showing benefits for grassland birds.

Although developed for the Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) for Grassland Protection and Management, these BMPs can be applied to any sizable grassland to benefit grassland birds. These BMPs will form the basis for specific 5-year Site Management Plans for landowners selected to receive technical and financial assistance through LIP.

Target Bird Species

The management recommendations in these BMPs are aimed towards grassland birds. Target birds are those listed as "probably" or "confirmed" breeding in the 2005 Breeding Bird Atlas (BBA) Block where the subject field is located. Birds registered in BBA blocks adjacent to the block where the field is located could colonize the subject field once the habitat becomes suitable for them. View the list of "at-risk" grassland bird species that are a high priority for protection and management.


  • Nesting Restrictions: Grasslands should not be disturbed by mowing, planting, harvesting, driving, or by any other mechanized means from 23 April to 15 August, inclusive (the nesting season) of every contract year.
  • Wintering Restrictions: Excessive disturbance such as frequent high speed snowmobile, ATV, motorized vehicle operation, or loud noises such as fireworks should be avoided from 1 November to 1 March, inclusive for the protection of wintering raptors.
  • Mowing window: All mowing must be done between 16 August and 1 October.

Preliminary Site Management

  • Between 16 August and 1 November of the first year of management, reduce fragmentation of the grassland by eliminating hedgerows, shrubs, and trees within the boundaries of the LIP field.
  • Between 16 August and 1 November and to the extent possible, eliminate woody vegetation, especially hedgerows within and bordering the field. Hedgerows split up habitat and function as predator corridors for coyote, foxes, cats, raccoons, etc; thereby degrading the overall quality of the site for breeding.

Management Schedule

General: Mowing as early within the mowing window as circumstances and conditions allow to prevent the maturation and release of seeds from forbs, especially the species listed below. At least 1/3 of mowed vegetation should be chopped up and left on site after each mowing. Thatch will provide nesting habitat for birds as well as attracting moles and voles which are prey for raptors and owls.

Invasive or Undesirable Species: The following species, if present, may require spot-mowing after August 15th of any year to control their encroachment into the field: spotted or brown knapweed, pale swallow-wort, burdock, or goldenrods.

Years One through Five:

  • Conduct Preliminary Site Management as described above.
  • Divide the field into 1/3s (approximately) if total acreage is 30 acres or more, or into 1/2s if field is less than 30 acres. Mow the first 1/2 or 1/3 of the grassland to a height no shorter than 6 inches (8 inches is preferred). Rotate the portion mown every year.

Additional Recommendations

Prevent disturbance of nesting birds by feral or outdoor cats, dogs, fireworks, etc.

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