From: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES)
Published October 30, 2017 12:18 PM

Cover Crops Provide Bed and Breakfast Layover for Migrating Birds

After harvesting a corn or soybean crop, farmers may plant a cover crop for a variety of reasons—to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff, increase organic matter in the soil, and improve water quality. Now there’s another reason. University of Illinois research shows that migratory birds prefer to rest and refuel in fields with cover crops.

“Here in the Midwest, we’re in one of the major flyway zones for migratory birds, where there once was plenty of habitat for grassland birds to safely forage and rest during their migration. Now that agriculture is the dominant landscape, they’re finding it harder to get the resources they need on the way to their breeding grounds,” says Cassandra Wilcoxen, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I.

“We think cover crops, such as cereal rye, likely provide migrating birds with more vegetation and a safe area to escape from the elements and from predators,” Wilcoxen says. “Cover crops also increase insect abundance, another food source for birds. The increased number of insects allows migrants to fuel up faster and move on to their breeding grounds.

“Grassland birds prefer large, open areas: the bigger, the better. Agricultural fields are huge, so the cover crops provide a large habitat where birds can rest, forage, and potentially even nest.”

Read more at University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES)

Image: Mourning Dove nestling on soybean stubble field that had been planted with oats and annual rye grass along with re-seeded pennycress from the previous year. Cover crop was terminated on April 24. Photo taken on May 22, 2017, on a field west of Lexington, Illinois. (Credit: Cassandra Wilcoxen)

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