A cover crop is a crop that’s planted primarily to manage soil quality, weeds, pests, and more, in order to protect their farm’s land. Cover crops are great because they have so many benefits yet require only basic care and can grow in nearly every part of the country. As if it couldn’t get any better, the University of Illinois recently discovered that migratory birds can use cover crop fields as a place to rest and refuel.
“Here in the Midwest, we’re 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,” said Cassandra Wilcoxen, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. “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.”
The problem is that the window to plant cover crops in the fall and terminating them in the spring can vary too much depending on how fast the seasons change. This makes it hard for farmers to adjust to the birds’ schedules. However, Wilcoxen is hopeful that farmers will be more sensitive about the crop cycle after learning about the birds.
“Production agriculture has taken a lot of habitat from wildlife but we need it to provide food for us and the world. But how do we mesh the two? Where are the opportunities? No-till is a great example. It helps slow soil erosion and it helps birds. Now, cover crops are another overlapping win-win opportunity to benefit both agriculture and wildlife,” she said.
Can cover crops really do it all? To learn more about the benefits of cover crops and specifically the impact they have on the birds, read more here.
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