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The Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Wildlife and Heritage Service plants sunflowers each spring on the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The primary purpose for planting sunflowers on wildlife management areas is to provide a food source for mourning doves, as well as other wildlife species, after the plants mature and dry. Mourning doves are hunted at these fields during hunting seasons that traditionally begin on September 1 and continue through early January.
A number of fields are planted each year, although two fields are designated as Dove Management Fields. The Dove Management Area fields have restricted times and days when hunting can occur during the month of September.
In addition to mourning doves, sunflowers and sunflower seeds are a favorite food source for a host of other songbirds, mammals and pollinators. Sunflowers require pollination by insects, usually bees, to produce a seed crop. In turn, honey bees and many species of native bees, benefit from the abundant nectar and pollen that sunflowers produce.
The techniques used to plant the sunflowers, and the sunflower variety planted, may change from year to year, as well as the number of acres planted and their locations. Sunflowers are planted in late April or early May. Weather, seed variety, weed competition, soil condition and herbivore damage will all impact the time that it takes for the plants to bloom. With favorable conditions, the sunflowers will bloom in mid-July.
After the sunflowers are done blooming and seeds are mature, in early to mid-August, strips are mowed through the sunflowers to scatter the seeds on the ground where they are more accessible to mourning doves and other wildlife. - MDNR