Roadsides for wildlife

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 tallgrass prairie, an endangered ecological habitat.

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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.


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


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

Inside the living snow fence protection area

Image of a blowing Road

Outside the living snow fence protection area

For More Information on Living Snow Fences contact:

Dan Gullickson, Mn/DOT Forester
[email protected] 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

For more information or assistance:

DNR Roadsides for Wildlife Program
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155-4020
Tel. 651-259-5014
Fax 651-297-4961



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.