University of California

Late season hay harvest provides habitat for marshland birds


Wade L. Epperson
John M. Eadie
Daniel B. Marcum
E. Lee Fitzhugh
Richard E. Delmas

Authors Affiliations

W.E. Epperson is Fish and Wildlife Scientific Aide, California Department of Fish and Game, ACWA, Bieber; J.M. Eadie is Raveling Waterfowl Professor, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, UC Davis; D.B. Marcum is Farm Advisor, Shasta/Lassen Counties; Modoc County; E.L. Fitzhngh is Extension Wildlife Specialist, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, UC Davis; R.E. Delmas is Farm Advisor, Modoc County.

Publication Information

Hilgardia 53(3):12-17. DOI:10.3733/ca.v053n03p12. May 1999.

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Haying of alkaline marsh and non-native annual grasses on the Ash Creek Wildlife Area has been a standard practice to enhance bird habitat since 1986. Harvest begins each year after Aug. 15 to minimize disturbance to nests and broods of greater sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis tabida) and other marsh-nesting birds. Field studies in 1996 revealed that the abundance and diversity of birds on hayed plots was equal to or greater than the abundance and diversity of birds on nonhayed plots. Greater sandhill cranes were also more abundant and spent more time foraging and less time being vigilant on hayed plots relative to plots that had not been hayed. Harvest of wild hay after nesting and brood-rearing can therefore be an important management tool to create a mosaic of habitats required by many species of marshland birds.

Further reading

Baker BW, Cade BS, Mangus WL, McMille JL. Spatial analysis of sandhill crane nesting habitat. J Wildlife Management. 1995. 59:752-8. https://doi.org/10.2307/3801952

Dale BC, Martin PA, Taylor PS. Effects of hay management on grassland songbirds in Saskatchewan. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 1997. 25:616-26.

Green RE, Tyler GA, Stowe TJ, Newton AV. A simulation model of the effect of mowing of agricultural grassland on the breeding success of the corncrake (Crex crex). J Zoology (London). 1997. 243:81-115.

Littlefield CD. Greater sandhill crane nesting and production in northeastern California, 1988. Western Birds. 1995. 26:34-8.

Luttschwager KA, Higgins KF, Jenks JA. Effects of emergency haying on duck nesting in conservation reserve program fields, South Dakota. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 1994. 22:403-8.

Mclvor DE, Conover MR. Habitat preference and diurnal use among greater sandhill cranes. Great Basin Naturalist. 1994. 54:329-34.

Safina C. Population trends, habitat utilization, and outlook for the future of the sandhill crane in North America: A review and synthesis. Bird Populations. 1993. 1:1-27.

Sietman BE, Fothergill WB, Finck EJ. Effects of haying and old-field succession on small mammals in tallgrass prairie. American Midland Naturalist. 1994. 131:1-8. https://doi.org/10.2307/2426602

Swengel AB. Effects of fire and hay management on abundance of prairie butterflies. Biological Conservation. 1996. 76:73-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/0006-3207(95)00085-2

Swengel SR. Management responses of three species of declining sparrows in tallgrass prairie. Bird Conservation Intl. 1996. 6:241-53.

Epperson W, Eadie J, Marcum D, Fitzhugh E, Delmas R. 1999. Late season hay harvest provides habitat for marshland birds. Hilgardia 53(3):12-17. DOI:10.3733/ca.v053n03p12
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