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Illinois hunting and fishing

A bobwhite won’t budge even when mowers are approaching. Photos by Chris Young

Stifle that itch to mow just a little bit longer

July 23, 2011 at 10:18 PM

Prairie State Outdoors

If you are getting the itch to mow, hold on just a little bit longer.

Shut the door to the machine shed and take one of these hot afternoons off.

Pheasants and quail are getting to the end of their breeding season. Soon, nearly all young will be fledged and on their own.

“It’s critical for pheasants and quail,” said Aaron Kuehl, of Illinois Pheasants and Quail Forever.

“If we can get to Aug. 1, that would be great,” he said. “Of course, if I had my druthers, I would ask for Aug. 15.

Normally, the breeding season is considered to run from April 15 to Aug. 15.

“Ironically, when Pheasants Forever started, (delayed mowing) was the first issue we pushed through on a state level,” Kuehl said.

In a highly agricultural state like Illinois, where much of the land is in crops, little habitat remains for grassland birds.

Putting off mowing can give them time to produce the next generation.

By now, first nest attempts started about June 1 are finished.

But when a clutch of eggs is lost to a predator or for some other reason, quail and pheasants start again.

“They are determined nesters,” Kuehl said. “They will not move off that nest even if the mower is coming.”

Eggs need 21 days to incubate before hatching.

“If those eggs are about to hatch, they are not moving anywhere,” he said. “We lose a lot of birds that way.”

Kuehl said delayed or reduced mowing can save time and fuel.

“We’ve got other states surrounding us, like Iowa, that have great roadsides programs,” he said.

Roadsides planted with native grasses and forbs can provide habitat and some colorful scenery.

“They are using a lot of fuel to get rid of that vegetation and control weeds when they mow those ditches,” Kuehl said. “If they start with natives when they re-do a road, they would get a lot of cost savings.”

Common sense needs to be part of the equation, such as mowing for safety or improved visibility around intersections and driveway entrances.

“If you plant the right species, visibility shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “Even tall prairie grasses aren’t going to be nearly as tall as corn.

“Select for smaller stature species like little bluestem and sideoats grama that are only going to be a couple of feet tall.”

Hay fields are going to be cut when the hay is ready, Kuehl said.

Still, it is possible for farmers to cut hay in such a way as to give young birds a chance at survival.

“As soon as they dry off and get all fluffy, they will start moving around,” he said. “The older they get, the more likely they will be able to move through those grasses.

“Start cutting hay at the middle of the field and push the birds outward,” Kuehl said.

Mowing that starts at the outside edge of the field just pushes the birds to the center and concentrates them.

Pushing them outward gives them a chance to escape to habitat beyond the hay field.

“You’ve heard the old rumor about turkeys eating them, haven’t you?” Kuehl asked. “I found them after I mowed, and the heads were cut clean off.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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