Well-managed pastures on livestock farms can provide high-quality habitat for grassland bird species that are declining in number, especially if areas within the pasture acreage are left ungrazed during the nesting season. Nearly all of Wisconsin’s original grasslands—commonly called prairies—have been lost over the past century, and, in tandem with this loss, grassland bird populations have declined. Some of these bird species are categorized as threatened or endangered. Today, many of these birds nest on or near the ground in pastures and hayfields, and previous research in Wisconsin has shown that leaving some portion of this land unharvested during the nesting season—by designating a ‘nesting refuge’—can increase reproductive success. This practice, however, is not common due to uncertainty surrounding the extent of losses in forage yield and quality and questions on how to manage these areas following the refuge period.
Laura Judge, Alicia Dixon and Mark Renz, researchers with the UW-Madison Department of Agronomy and the Agroecology master’s degree program, quantified the loss in forage yield and quality under different management scenarios in a nesting refuge established in southern Wisconsin cool-season pasture. Establishing nesting refuges with ungrazed and unharvested forages resulted in losses that varied with different management practices, but only in the year that the nesting refuges were in place.
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Published as Research Brief #103