Birds to See Now: Greater Prairie Chickens

Birds to See Now: Greater Prairie Chickens
In spring, one of the US’s rare birds puts on a show, as

greater_prairie_chicken
Photo Credit: Stan Tekeila

Greater Prairie Chickens look for mates.  Males in the area gather on their traditional performing “leks” also known as “booming grounds” to display on the grasslands for seemingly uninterested females.  To impress them, the males fluff their feathers to create an appealing shape, stomp with fast tiny steps, fend off other potential suitors and make an unusual booming sound by inflating their cheeks.  It’s an amazing and ancient show which attracts birdwatchers from all over, and one which can still be seen in a few states like Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and South Dakota. To see a video of this mating behavior, click here.

Greater Prairie Chickens are endangered in 15 states. As their name implies, they need prairies to survive, and these are in very short supply.  Most prairies have been converted to farmland and grazing, and none of these conversions work terribly well for this bird. These days, most prairie chickens have to make do with a combination of cropland or grazing areas mixed with some patchy pieces of prairie.  But in addition to the degraded habitat, birds have difficulty finding each other to mate since their territories are so fragmented and isolated.  These living conditions are not ideal, and in fact have contributed to the extinction of a couple of species of prairie chicken and caused a massive decline in the populations of others.
If you want to see an amazing annual event that still persists, make your way to a Greater Prairie Chicken booming ground and get ready for an amazing sight.  In many instances you will also be able to see other grouse-like birds mating in the area, as this is the season!  The best way to do this is to take a tour from a responsible operator, as local guides know when and where to find the birds, and how to see them displaying while having with the least impact on them.

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