Wildlife Habitat During Mowing Operations

Wildlife Habitat Conservation Mowing Considerations

Most everyone is familiar with the topic of mowing, as they actively mow or have some property that is contract mowed — all for various reasons, whether it be purely cosmetic, obtaining hay as feed for livestock, or part of an established maintenance plan such as controlling the growth of particular species of weeds; however, not everyone is familiar with the implications affecting the wildlife habitat during mowing operations.

There are, however, special considerations surrounding wildlife and their habitat as it relates to mowing techniques; be mindful of these during mowing operations, even if you’re not bound to a conservation program contract.

One of the most important considerations is to be aware that mowing high overgrowth during the spring and summer months could disrupt active nesting of wildlife.

Type of Mowing

The mowing you choose to engage based on your desired outcome can drastically affect the wildlife habitat.  According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, strip mowing and random pattern mowing are best when you are concerned with enhancing this habitat; in any pattern based mowing, they recommend that unmowed areas are at least 100 feet wide, and comprised of no less than half an acre.

Typically, when concerned with the well-being of wildlife, mowing an entire field should be avoided unless performed in preparation for further maintenance such as overseeding grass, or if mowings are orchestrated in a larger rotational plan that includes various other smaller-sized fields.

In addition to considerations purely regarding the wildlife habitat, being mindful of the cutting height can improve the quality of the vegetation.  For rough field mowing, normal conditions will dictate that you typically not cut lower than 6 inches, especially for warm season grass; furthermore, it is recommended that you not cut less than 8-10 inches when the property is being managed for wildlife conservation.

Coordinated Strip Mowing

Strip Mowing PatternStrip mowing is the act of coordinating a rotational mowing operation where a field is mowed in a defined width strip, followed by rotating or alternating the mowed/unmowed areas with each cutting.

If you’re looking for contracted rotational mowing, learn more about the Elwoh Solutions Ag Services.

Rotational Block Mowing

Rotational Block Mowing PatternThe block mowing pattern is simply taking a field and dividing its total area into equal subsections that are mowed in a rotational pattern.  This type of mowing pattern is usually best for smaller or narrow fields.

Random Pattern Mowing

Random Pattern MowingThis pattern of mowing is purely random, where mowing with various turns and crossings will produce irregular strips and blocks.  The aforementioned minimum recommendations for unmowed areas should still apply as a factor when determining directional changes.

Full-Field Cover Mowing

As stated above, this mowing type should ordinarily be avoided when concerned with the wildlife habitat, unless it is performed as part of a maintenance plan or larger rotational pattern including various smaller fields.  Obviously, when mowing strictly for aesthetics of the property, this is unavoidable — however, giving additional consideration to the height of the cut can be important for wildlife management.

Wildlife Habitat Impacts of Mowing

With regards to wildlife, the timings and above patterns of mowing can present with different implications, not all of which are negative.  Various types of wildlife thrive based on the results of mowing.

The best timings to likely avoid active nesting periods is during February or early-March and during late-August or September.

Spring and Summer

Bobwhite Chick
Bobwhite Chick

During the spring and summer months, you can expect that deer, rabbits and various birds, such as the northern bobwhite quail are actively nesting in the tall overgrowth.

Mowing during these seasons of nesting activity brings about an increased risk of killing the young animals and significantly hindering their ability to thrive.

Summer and Fall

The active growing of vegetation during the summer and fall serves a vital role in providing adequate safety for various animals during the winter months by providing shelter from both wind, snow, and predators.

RagweedThe weed that is responsible for a large portion of suffering for those with allergies, known as ragweed, is also very beneficial to wildlife; being one of the top producers of food for quail and songbirds.

Know what is Allowed

If mowing regulated property, such as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) set-aside land, always refer to your conservation contract or contact the local USDA FSA office.


Portions of information and photographs obtained from the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Habitat Improvement Program, and the Kentucky Division of Forestry.