Male prairie chickens are showoffs in spring. They do a foot-stomping strut and make a booming sound to impress females as courtship occurs on hilltops. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) will offer the public a chance to view prairie chickens on a lek, or booming ground, at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie 6 to 9 a.m. on March 18 or March 25.
There is no cost to attend, but space is limited to the first 50 people who register for each day of viewing. Participants will meet at MDC’s office in El Dorado Springs. A school bus will take observers out to the prairie and will park on a road within sight of the lek. Participants will be able to take photographs and watch the prairie chickens from the bus. The bus serves as a blind and minimizes disturbance of birds on the lek. Plus guests on the bus have a higher elevation for viewing.
The viewing is scheduled for early morning – sunrise and just beyond – because that’s when the birds are most active on the leks. MDC biologists will be present to answer questions about prairie chickens and grassland conservation.
Prairie chickens are endangered in Missouri. A small remnant flock has survived at the Taberville Prairie Conservation Area north of Wah’Kon-Tah. But the flock at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie was restored with birds translocated from Kansas. Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie is owned by The Nature Conservancy and managed by MDC, and MDC also owns some acreage in the area north of El Dorado Springs.
Besides restoring prairie chickens to the area, biologists are also studying what grassland habitat management choices best help prairie chickens, native plants, and all grassland species thrive in the Upper Osage Grasslands.
Habitat loss led to prairie chicken declines. Only tiny parcels of Missouri’s once vast prairies remain. Poor weather during nesting season has hurt recovery efforts in the past decade, although birds in the Wah’Kon-Tah area have held steady in the past few years.
The public is asked not to approach or disturb prairie chickens on leks at wildlife areas. Please do not leave roadways to photograph or observe prairie chickens.
To register for the public viewing days, call MDC’s El Dorado Springs office at 417-876-5792.
For more information about prairie chickens in Missouri, visit http://on.mo.gov/2lH0NZQ.
Information about Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie is available at http://on.mo.gov/2lLYOQS.