I recently had the opportunity to spend the morning at a greater prairie chicken lek at Dunn Ranch Prairie (The Nature Conservancy) in northwest Missouri. I didn’t know what to expect because I’d never been close to prairie chickens; I’d only heard stories about how amazing it is to “experience them.”
It wasn’t long after my arrival, when I was treated to an evening preview of the birds, that I realized just how special these native wildfowl are, not only to see, but also to hear. Their cacophony of vocalizations is a mix of resonant booming and hysterical laughter, kind of like a band of hyenas with a bass track. You can hear the same sounds I heard at this link to a short iPhone video I made before sunrise on the lek.
The featured image was captured at sunrise as a male was “throwing down a boom.” Often, the male closes its eyes when booming so this was one of the few shots where I got a nice “eyes open” image. I was also pleased to see its ear-like feathers standing proud.
This image was shot shortly after the first one, when the prairie sky was still in sunrise purple. I liked this image because the sun highlighted the bird’s face a bit more than in the first image. How about those crazy golden eyebrows!
This image demonstrates a typical stand-off between two males. Sometimes, this leads to physical contact and flying feathers but most of the time one of the birds would back down and the victor would do a little dance and display, as shown in the first two images.
When a standoff was elevated to ritual battle, one or both birds took to the air for its attack. I was mesmerized by the interaction and accompanying sounds.
At one point, a female visited the lek and I noticed she was wearing a transmitter, used by The Nature Conservancy and Missouri Department of Conservation to research prairie chicken activities. Her attire didn’t deter a few males from checking her out, as shown in the next image.
Here, a male struts as close as he can to the coy female.
This final shot is of one of the males showing off its jewelry as the sun was setting the evening before. As you can see, the evening sky at the 3,300-acre Dunn Ranch Prairie was as sublime as that of the following morning.
A huge thanks goes to the managers of TNC’s Dunn Ranch Prairie, Randy Arndt, Grand River Grasslands Site Manager, and Hilary Haley, Conservation Coordinator. They did everything possible to make my visit a success. Also thanks to my friend, Mike Arduser, who joined me for the trip. A veteran wildlife biologist, Mike is always happy to answer my plethora of questions regarding Missouri’s natural world.
Thanks for looking,
Email me at: NatureFrames@Rocketmail.Com