No-till Soybean Fields Giving Birds a Foothold in Illinois

January 21, 2014
American robins and vesper sparrows, were found nesting in greater abundance in no-till than in tilled soybean fields.

NRES Researchers Dr. Jeff Brawn, Dr. Mike Ward, and former graduate student Kelly VanBeek (a wildlife biologist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) report in a new study that several bird species – some of them relatively rare – are making extensive use of soybean fields in Illinois. The team found significantly more birds and a greater diversity of bird species nesting, roosting and feeding in no-till soybean fields than in tilled fields.

The team spent about 13 weeks each spring and summer in 2011 and 2012 scouring a total of 24 fields (12 per year) in two counties in Central Illinois. The fields were 18 to 20 hectares (44-49 acres) on average, and the researchers walked roughly 3,200 kilometers (1,988 miles) in the course of the study.

The team found more bird nests and greater species diversity in the no-till fields than in the tilled soybeans. Nest losses were high, however. About 80 percent of nests in the no-till fields and more than 90 percent in tilled fields failed as a result of predation or the onset of farm operations before eggs hatched or young birds were ready to fly.

To view the article in its entirety, and to access the paper, "Does No-Till Soybean Farming Provide Any Benefits for Birds?", visit the U. of I. News Bureau website:

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  • Kelly VanBeek

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