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A successful flight to the roadsides

By Adam Sears
Natural Resource Biologist
Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board, 641-423-5309

Dickcissel 1
Roadside habitat is very important to grassland birds such as the Dickcissel.

By simply getting in your car and taking a drive through the county, you will have a wonderful opportunity to see many beautiful birds that inhabit our roadsides. The roadsides provide many different types of habitat that allow for a variety of bird species to live in them. Each type of habitat appeals to a different bird species for nesting, raising families, hunting for food, and hiding from predators. Today with the expansion of agricultural land, roadsides play an even bigger role than what was once thought of as” just a ditch”. Roadside wildlife is a concept that is becoming quite prevalent across the state of Iowa. In Cerro Gordo County, roadside habitat is an essential part of our conservation efforts to improve overall wildlife quality throughout the county. Although the roadsides may only make up a small fraction of the land these areas can be highly productive for ground laying and low vegetation nesting birds.

Roadside habitat is very important to grassland birds such as the Eastern Kingbird.
Roadside habitat is very important to grassland birds such as the Eastern Kingbird.

It is not uncommon to be driving down a gravel road and notice an Eastern Meadowlark perched on a barbed wire fence, or a Killdeer pretending to be injured to lure you away from its nest. You might see a Red-winged Blackbird protecting its territory from an Eastern Kingbird that is just interested in hunting insects, but is perched on a fence much too close for the Red-winged Blackbird’s comfort. Many roadsides are homes to upland game birds such as the Hungarian Partridge and the Ringed-necked Pheasant that may also use the roadside as a nesting site. Most of the roadsides that seasonally hold water provide the wetland habitat needed for many species of waterfowl. Some other common roadside birds are the American Goldfinch, Mourning Dove, American Kestrel, Dickcissel, and Red-tailed Hawk.

One of the ways that the Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management staff of Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board promotes a variety of bird species is by planting native vegetation whenever possible to promote a diverse habitat. The staff also minimizes negative impacts to birds by using spot herbicide treatment for noxious weed control. In the spring of 2011 the staff selected 25 sites in the roadside that provided habitat suited for Eastern Bluebird nesting boxes. The sites selected have been planted and managed with a diverse mix of native wildflowers and grasses. In 2011 and 2012 the nesting boxes were an immediate success having 20 out of 25 of them used each year by Eastern Bluebirds or Tree Swallows.

The Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board discourages mowing in the Right of Way. Roadsides with undisturbed cover receive almost continuous nesting from spring until late summer. For additional information contact Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board at (641) 423-5309.

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