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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Out on the Lek

Started this morning at a Greater Prairie Chicken lek (dancing ground) 40 minutes sw of Kearney, Nebraska. As the sun came up, 15 male grouse were dancing, inflating their orange neck sacks, flaring their "ear" feathers, and running at each other, all while making some of the most amazing sounds in the bird world (listen to prairie chicken sounds here). An amazing spectacle. The birds were dancing on a ridge top across a large gully, maybe 1/4 mile away, but still visible with a scope and easy to hear. At one point a male Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawk) chased several birds closer to us for a better view.

There are about 600,000 Greater Prairie Chicken left in North America. They used to range from Long Island west to the Rockies and from the southern prairie provinces to the Gulf Coast. The Texas population, Attwater's Prairie Chicken, is almost extinct (about 40 birds left in the wild), the eastern Heath Hen population is extinct, and the great plains population is declining (see current map here).

In a world of big grain fields, the native grasses that the chickens like just aren't around as much as they used to be. If you want to see these birds, go now, while they are still findable. And support agricultural programs that preserve habitat, like the conservation reserve program. The Farm Bill, its not just for farmers!

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