Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
One of the most prominent aspects of the landscape in the lower Valley is the presence of agricultural fields. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were at least 158,540 ha in the Valley devoted to row crop or cereal crop production (row crop = 62.6%, cereal crop = 37.4%) in 1967. By 1977, the totals had increased to 195,587 total ha (73.2% in row crops, 26.8% in cereal crops). Of the nearly 1.8 million ha of the Valley included in this report, 8.8% was devoted to row and cereal crop production in 1967 and 11% in 1977.
During the initial stages of agricultural development, important habitats including native tall grass prairie, deciduous forest, and prairie wetlands were destroyed to accommodate expanded production. Changes in land use of the magnitude attributed to Cropland have had a serious impact on bird populations and bird species diversity. Current agricultural practices of fencerow to fencerow farming, clean farming, fencerow removal, and windbreak removal to facilitate center-pivot irrigation systems, produce additional stresses on bird populations.
Corn, soybeans, oats, barley, and to a limited extent, wheat, are the prominent crops produced in this region. Although a common practice in western Minnesota, summer fallowing the soil has only recently become popular in this region. Characteristic breeding bird species that use Cropland include gray partridge*, killdeer*, horned lark*, western meadowlark, red-winged blackbird, and vesper sparrow.
Domestic hay was produced on 128,927 ha in 1967 and 139,393 ha (+7.5%) in 1977. Hayland accounted for 7.2 and 7.8% of the total area of the Valley in 1967 and 1977, respectively. This temporary habitat is important to a variety of early nesting species. Hayland is also important in soil conservation because the soil is not laid bare each year and is not exposed to the ravages of wind and water erosion as it is with row crops. Principal plant species used in hay production include alfalfa, timothy, brome grass, and red clover.
Characteristic breeding birds associated with Haylands include American bittern, mallard, blue-winged teal, pintail, marsh hawk, short-billed marsh wren, bobolink*, eastern meadowlark*, western meadowlark, red-winged blackbird, dickcissel*, savannah sparrow*, grasshopper sparrow*, Henslow's sparrow*, LeConte's sparrow, and song sparrow.
The Old Field community represents a relatively small proportion of the land area in the Valley. This habitat type develops when land is taken out of agricultural production and allowed to develop by natural succession. Invasion by a variety of plants will result in a rapidly changing vegetational community. Areas of Old Field community are usually no larger than 16 ha; most are 4 to 8 ha.
Characteristic plant species associated with this habitat include a variety of pioneer trees and shrubs, such as trembling aspen, box elder, staghorn sumac, and flowering crab apple. Grasses and forbs associated with this habitat include timothy, awnless bromegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, quack grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, hoary alyssum, blue vervain, moth mullein, yarrow, evening primrose, common milkweed, alfalfa, goat's beard, sheep sorrel, daisy fleabane, noble goldenrod, and sharp-toothed goldenrod.
Characteristic breeding birds associated with this habitat include American kestrel, mourning dove, eastern kingbird*, brown thrasher, eastern bluebird, golden-winged warbler, yellow warbler, eastern meadowlark, brown-headed cowbird, indigo bunting, American goldfinch, rufous-sided towhee, clay-colored sparrow*, field sparrow*, and song sparrow.
Within the Valley, several thousand hectares of upland fields have been acquired by State and Federal conservation agencies as wildlife management areas or Waterfowl Production Areas. These lands are usually agricultural fields that have been taken out of production. Several different management techniques are used to develop extensive areas of grasses and forbs to provide nesting habitat for a variety of wildlife species.
Characteristic plant species established on Managed Grassland areas include intermediate wheatgrass, switchgrass, timothy, and brome grass. After establishment of these grasses, a number of forbs invade the areas. Several characteristic invaders include hoary alyssum, yarrow, blue vervain, daisy fleabane, and sharp-toothed goldenrod.
These established communities provide habitat for a variety of species including American bittern, mallard, pintail, blue-winged teal, marsh hawk, ring-necked pheasant, short-billed marsh wren, common yellowthroat, bobolink, eastern meadowlark, western meadowlark, red-winged blackbird, dickcissel, and savannah, grasshopper, Henslow's, vesper, and song sparrows.