Birds benefit from no-till

Burrowing<br />
owls are thriving in no-till<br />
fields in Brazil Biodiversity


The variety of life in all its forms, levels and combinations. Includes ecosystem diversity, species diversity, and genetic diversity (IUCN, UNEP and WWF, 1991).

Authoritative On-line References and Resources EarthTrends is a comprehensive online database, maintained by the World Resources Institute, that focuses on environmental, social, and economic trends. Statistics on biodiversity indicators are available.
is being encouraged by the adoption of conservation tillage


Any tillage and planting system that covers 30 percent or more of the soil surface with crop residue after planting to reduce soil erosion by water.

Authoritative On-line References and Resources

Purdue University-based Conservation Technology Information Centre.
practices, especially no-till farming. Spraying with a non-selective


A chemical product used for eliminating all types of weeds (annual and perennial grasses and broadleaved weeds).

Authoritative On-line References and Resources An invaluable source of contemporary information about herbicides and weeds from Iowa State University.
herbicide like paraquat means that weeds can be controlled without the need to plow.
Birds, in particular, are benefiting when fields are not plowed or only lightly cultivated in conservation tillage systems. Leaving stubble and chaff from the previous crop on the soil surface, and undisturbed no-till soil, provides habitats for invertebrates and small wildlife. Whether bird species feed on spilled grain and weed seeds, insects or small mammals, greater numbers are often evident. One bird species now thriving in no-till fields in the intensive soybean growing areas to the north and south of Sao Paulo in Brazil is the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia). Found throughout much of North and South America, as their name implies, burrowing owls nest and roost in holes in the ground, perhaps dug by prairie dogs, for instance. During a recent ecological survey of fields in rural areas around the cities of Londrina and Uberlandia, burrowing owls and their homes were seen in many over-wintered no-till fields. An owl burrow in a no-till fieldOriginally a native of prairie grasslands, cultivation has meant that the birds have had to adapt to living within cropping systems. Plowing obviously destroys burrows, so in conventionally tilled fields the owls’ habitat is confined to the field margins. This may be a major reason for contraction in their range. No-till, however, means that the owls can thrive throughout fields. These unusual owls feed on large beetles and grasshoppers during the day and hunt for rodents by night, using their night vision and acute hearing to good advantage. They are also known to bring animal dung into their burrows to attract their favorite diet of dung beetles. Other birds flourishing in the no-till fields of southern Brazil include doves, white-browed blackbirds and the unusual red-legged seriema. Elsewhere in the world birds are taking advantage of conservation tillage practices. In Douglas County, Illinois, USA, golden plovers stop to rest and feed during their long migration from the Argentine pampas to their summer home on the shores of the Arctic Ocean1. Ornithologists from the University of Illinois have noticed that the thousands of plovers which arrive over a few weeks in April and May seem to fit in well with the intensive corn and soybean farming in the area. In particular, birds seem to benefit from the no-till corn stubble waiting to be sown with the next crop. In Europe, conservation tillage systems are also good for birds. In Hungary2, over-wintered stubbles prior to spring planting were more attractive to starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and skylarks (Alauda arvensis) than plowed fields at various times over three seasons of observations. More skylarks were observed on UK fields which had not been plowedWhile in the UK3, skylarks have been found to be more abundant in winter wheat crops established by conservation tillage. Nesting began earlier and the breeding season was extended. So, in addition to the advantages of no-till and conservation tillage systems in reducing soil erosion


Displacement of solids (soil, mud, rock and other particles) usually by the agents of currents such as, wind, water, or ice by downward or down-slope movement.

Authoritative On-line References and Resources This site brings together reliable information on soil erosion from a wide range of disciplines and sources. It aims to be the definitive internet source for those wishing to find out more about soil loss and soil conservation.
, and improving soil structure and quality, biodiversity is also improved.
Paraquat used for burndown before sowing provides one of the few available options for weed control in these systems. It is inactivated immediately on contact with soil and provides an important alternative to glyphosate to avoid encouraging resistant weeds.


1. No-till No-Till Fields Home For Migrating Birds
2. Field, R H, Benke, S, Bádonyi, K & Bradbury, R B (2007). Influence of conservation tillage on winter bird use of arable fields in Hungary. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 120, (2-4), 399-404
3. Cunningham, H M, Bradbury, R B, Chaney, K & Wilcox, A (2005). Effect of non-inversion tillage on field usage by UK farmland birds in winter. Bird Study, 52, 173–179


The brand name of the leading paraquat product is Gramoxone.