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A meadowlark perched on purple prairie flowers.

Be Grassland Bird Friendly

Wisconsin grassland bird populations are in steep decline. Many of these species, like the bobolink and eastern meadowlark, nest on the ground therefore are vulnerable to grazing cattle and mower blades. Livestock producers can take steps to improve nest success in pastures and hay fields!

Grassland Bird nests are vulnerable from April 25 to August 1.


Best practices to improve nest success during this time include:

Rotational or Continuous Grazing + Hay

  • Create unharvested nesting refuge:

  • Away from woods or hedgerows

  • As large as possible (20-30% of pasture area is ideal)

  • Don’t harvest until August 1

  • Harvest hay or graze after August 1 —> expect some yield loss

Continuous Grazing

  • Use low stocking rate, ideally ≤ 0.5 head/acre (1 head = 1,000 lbs)

  • Rotational grazing

  • Rotate to next paddock when pasture plant height (residual) is 8+ inches

  • Use long rest interval between grazing events, ideally 40+ days (to allow for a complete nesting cycle)

  • Graze every other paddock to ensure some protective cover near nests


Information from Grassland Birds: Fostering Habitat Using Rotational Grazing in the UW Extension Learning Store Laura Judge,


What makes good bird habitat?

A variety of best management practices can be employed on a working farm to provide bird habitat. Each farm is unique and may employ different strategies to provide habitat for birds.

Examples include:

  • Reducing stocking rates of grazing animals

  • Providing refuge areas for nesting and foraging birds

  • Manipulating hay harvest dates to accommodate bird activity

  • Keeping fence lines clear of brush and trees


Other ways to help birds:

  • Plant native grasses! Even if it’s just a small patch, more grass on the ground will help provide birds with habitat during the breeding season and migration. They also help sequester carbon which will have a global impact!

  • Support policies and programs that help grasslands

  • Keep cats inside. Migration is hard enough without extra predators on the hunt!

  • Use the free eBird app for iOS and Android, to record your bird sightings and share them with scientists. Real research has been done using data collected by birders.

  • “Learn a bird” every day! Visit the All About Birds website for educational tools for youth and adults interested in birds.

Farming with Grassland Birds:
Guide to Making Your Hay and Pasture Bird Friendly

Maintaining a viable forage or grazing program that considers the needs of both birds and livestock producers is critical. Otherwise, there are two likely alternatives: the land will be converted to annual row crops, or abandoned and overtaken by shrubs and trees, resulting in lost habitat. Finding a system that allows for coexistence is the most desirable outcome for farmers and grassland birds.

Front cover of Farming with Grassland Birds guide

Visit our Resources page for more helpful information about bird-friendly practices:

Need more help? Not sure where to start?

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