Why did the chicken…?

Posted April 23rd, 2010 by kcorliss. Comment (0).

I’m not sure but for whatever reason, it did it very early in the morning.

This AM a friend and I headed out to the Nature Conservancy’s Bluestem Prairie to sit in the prairie chicken blinds. I hadn’t done it in about 20 years so I figured I was due. After all it’s one of those wildlife spectacles I feel everyone should experience at least once in their life.

There are a couple drawbacks which likely prevent some from taking advantage of this free show. First, you have to reserve the blinds early in the season as the dates fill up fast. Second, it can be cold, and by that I mean very cold. I remember almost 30 years ago sitting in the blind and shivering with blowing snow, temps in the teens…you get the picture. Finally, by rule you must be in the blind an hour prior to sunrise. Bottom line, it’s no picnic. But is it worth it? Heck yea.

The first thing you become aware of in the predawn darkness is the eerie, haunting, omni-directional hoo-HOO ing. This is the weird hollow noise caused by the inflation of the birds’ air sacs. Finally the flutter of wings is heard and the males start to appear and joust for prime real estate on the booming ground. Roughly 22 males showed up on the lek this morning. There were about 3 females which appeared as well.

Everywhere on the lek males were jostling, feinting, challenging…a lot like a singles bar I suppose. I doubt any bird gets harmed, it’s much more bark than bite. Again like a singles bar. Here two square off in a staredown:

Sometimes there is some jumping:

When the gals show up much posturing takes place. Air sacs are inflated, bright yellow combs above the eye engorge, tails are erected and fanned, feathers alongside throats are thrust into the air, feet rapidly thump the ground in a choreographed dance. Did I mention the singles bar thing?

Here a female casually struts through the booming ground while no less than six males try to impress her into mating:

Most times the jockeying for position involves two males, but occassionally three:

Most impressive still is the lone display:

Trust me, one morning spent there is worth the early rise. You owe it to your kids, your students, your grandkids, your friend, whatever. Click on the link above for the phone number to reserve one of the two blinds. There may not be any spots left this year (booming should be pretty much over in a couple weeks) but keep it in mind for next.

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