Bird Occupancy on Cover Crop Fields During Their Spring Migration in the Midwest Corn Belt Region

Cassandra A. Wilcoxon, Michael P. Ward, Jeffery W. Walk

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Once an ancient practice, cover crops fell out of use during the agricultural intensification of the past century. Water quality and nutrient management issues have brought cover crops back into use on a large scale in the last decade. Use of cover crops in the Midwest Corn Belt region during spring corresponds to the timing of bird migration. With the large scale loss of habitat on the landscape, cover crops have the potential to provide temporary habitat for birds during their spring migration. Bird surveys were conducted on corn with a cover crop, soybean with a cover crop, corn, and soybean fields in 2015 and 2016 throughout central Illinois to determine specie occupancy. Vegetation measurements were collected to explore their influence on the species present and their abundance. Preliminary results indicate more species utilize cover crop fields and in higher densities. Birds of conservation concern were detected, such as Smith’s Longspur and Grasshopper Sparrow. Preferred vegetation characteristics were species specific. As adoption of cover crops increases, we need to understand how farmers manage them and the effect on birds. An opportunity exists for farmers to use cover crops for their benefit while providing temporary habitat for birds.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPrivate Landscapes, Public Responsibilities: 77th Midwest Fish & Wildlife Conference, February 5-7, 2017, Lincoln, Nebraska
StatePublished - 2017


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