Grassland Habitat: Why We Don't Mow

Mowing occurs in the grassland habitats once a year, in late August, to prevent woody vegetation from taking hold.
Mowing occurs once a year in grassland habitats to prevent woody vegetation taking over.  These activities take place in late August to avoid bird mating and nesting times and to allow grasses to go to seed to ensure their return the following year.

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Upon first glance, the grasslands of Floyd Bennett Field might be mistaken as an overgrown lawn due for a mowing. However, these grasslands reflect a variety of native grass species that provide important habitat for wildlife, such as birds, mammals and insects. On the other hand, lawns are composed of ornamental grasses maintained for recreation or landscaping.

Grasslands differ from lawn environments by being composed of different species of often tall grasses that supply food, shelter and nesting habitat for many bird and insect species.
Grasslands, opposed to mowed lawns, offer wildlife a safe place to nest, rest and feed.  These habitats are an important resource for wildlife, particularly birds and insects, in an urban area like New York City.

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How are grasslands different from a lawn?

True to its name, grasslands are natural environments dominated by grasses instead of woody vegetation such as trees and shrubs. Unfortunately, natural grassland habitats across the United States are in decline due to residential, agricultural and commercial development. The loss of grassland habitat is a threat to birds that depend on the such habitat for breeding, migratory stops and shelter. Grasslands are especially rare in the metropolitan New York City area. Thanks to a partnership between NPS and the New York City Audubon Society, visitors can find restored grasslands at Floyd Bennett Field, part of Gateway National Recreation Area.

What lives in the grasslands?

A former municipal airport in Brooklyn, Floyd Bennett Field has wide open landscapes that are unique amongst the towering skyscrapers of New York City. This grassland restoration effort, originally called the Grassland Restoration and Management Project (GRAMP), was started in 1985 to provide grassland birds with protected habitat. Nature lovers can witness the benefits of this project while bird watching at Floyd Bennett Field. If you look carefully, American kestrels, turkey vultures, Savannah sparrows, Willets, Tree swallows and Barn owls can be seen flying around the grasslands at various times of the year.

Monarch butterflies can be observed alighting on the variety of grassland plants to feed and rest.
Monarch butterflies are often observed in the grasslands of Floyd Bennett Field.

NPS Photo

The grasslands of Floyd Bennett Field are a haven to birds as well as a palette of colors when wildflowers bloom and butterflies flutter about in spring and summer. The grasslands are managed for native plants such as little bluestem, milkweed, butterfly weed and panic grass. Milkweed and butterfly weed are especially attractive to Monarch butterflies. Various mammals and reptiles also find shelter and food within the grasslands of Floyd Bennett Field. These grasslands actually do get mown once a year to keep invasive plants and woody vegetation from taking over. Mowing is done in sections and scheduled long after the nesting of grassland birds to minimize disturbance to them.

Many insects depend on the grassland plants to provide safety, food and reproductive habitat.
A variety of birds and insects, such as this praying mantis, utilize the grasslands.  These animals are an important predator of the irritating mosquito.

NPS Photo

How you can help

The grasslands are natural areas protected for wildlife conservation. Please do not enter the grasslands. Observe birds or other wildlife from the runways so as not to disturb them. Do not feed birds or other wildlife. Despite having the best of intensions, feeding wildlife creates dependency and familiarity with humans which can prove hazardous to any wild animal. Releasing pets or other animals in the park is illegal and punishable by fine. Please do not fly kites in or around the grasslands. Help keep the grasslands free from litter by placing garbage in a garbage can. Enjoy this unique landscape without even leaving the city!

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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