Laura's Greater Prairie-Chicken information
The Greater Prairie-Chicken is a wonderful contradiction in terms, combining beauty and stateliness with some of the most comically bizarre behaviors in the bird world. I spent a morning in a prairie chicken blind on a Nature Conservancy preserve in Western Minnesota in May, 2005. I've put video and sound clips and photos on my prairie chicken lek page.
Photos: A few more photos are available on my Prairie Chicken Photo Gallery Page.
|Male Greater Prairie-Chicken displaying on a lek.
Prairie chickens populations are in grave danger of dwindling to unsurvivable lows. I saw my very first ones in Michigan in May, 1976--the entire Michigan prairie population is now extinct--they disappeared by the 80s. They fell victim first to over-hunting in the 1800s, and increasingly to habitat destruction and, oddly, to fences. Gallinaceous prairie species are accustomed to grasses, which yield the right-of-way when flown into. Prairie chickens historically have limited themselves to habitat that is entirely grass--small wonder they have no inclination to change their flight as they head into a fence.
Learn more about Greater Prairie-Chickens
How you can help Greater Prairie-Chickens:
- Never ride ATVs or other vehicles through prairie chicken nesting areas during lekking and nesting season, from March through early August.
- If you hunt upland game birds, always use non-toxic shot. (Prairie chickens and other seed-eating species pick up grit, including shot, to aid digestion in their gizzard.)
- If you hunt birds, use a dog--you have a much better chance of retrieving every bird you shoot!
- Do everything you can to support protection of grassland habitat.
- I can't emphasize enough how important it is to support The Nature Conservancy and to buy a Duck Stamp to support the habitat prairie chickens need.
- Try to avoid buying "corn-fed" beef, which has been raised on feedlots. Beef raised in pastures is far better for ensuring at least some grassland habitat.
- Remove unnecessary fencing in prairie chicken habitat. A surprisingly high number of grouse and prairie-chickens crash into fences.
- SLOW DOWN when driving in prairie chicken habitat. I still see dead ones on roadsides every year when I go through prairie chicken areas.
How you can see Greater Prairie-Chickens:
There aren't very many places left for viewing Greater Prairie-Chickens, but fortunately, where they still exist there are often viewing blinds where you can get excellent looks.
If you want to see their displays at close range, you need to arrive at an observation blind while it is still very dark. And you must remain in the blind until after the birds have left for the day, which may be close to 9 am. There is a short window of time each year when the birds engage in this wonderful display on their leks, and it's critical to allow them to do this undisturbed. Prairie chickens are dangerously declining, and need every opportunity possible to successfully court and breed, and need as much habitat protected as possible so their ground nests aren't disturbed or damaged.