Join in the Greater Prairie Chicken Dance

(continued from the previous post)

Finding our way to the blind, we locate the entry way, crouch and make our way inside. There is a simple low bench in the middle of blind adding some comfort to what is otherwise a cold and cramped space. If you can’t dress warmly, are prone to leg cramps, have back trouble or fear enclosed spaces; think twice about signing up for this experience.

I am sure the prairie chickens are close by and saw us enter their territory. With an hour before dawn, lights out and sitting quietly, we hope they soon forget about us.

predawnAbout a half hour before dawn, it is very quite. I slowly open the window to see the sky alight with color. The windows open inwards so as not to spook the prairie chickens. We have also been instructed to keep our camera lens well inside the  blind.

Before long faint coos can be heard.  First here and there, then nearly all the time. Still no visible action outside. Then seemingly out of no where, they appear.  Time to do my part for science, I pick up my clip board to record the time and document the number of males and females. We will continue to record at regular intervals until the dance is done for the day. Pencils are used because it is often cold enough to render pens useless.

At first this is a male only dance with each male seeming to stake out it’s territory. When a female arrives, the action becomes intense.  Males often square off puffing up their feathers, stomping their feet, jumping into the air and generally showing off their brightly colored cheek feathers.

Is this female not interested or just playing hard to get?

Is this female not interested or just playing hard to get?

All of a sudden, the activity stops and birds vanish. Before long a harrier hawk is overhead looking for easy prey. Once the hawk moves on to other pastures, the prairie chickens return to continue their spring ritual.

As the sun rises, the action dwindles until the stomping grounds are quite. Time to leave the blind, have breakfast and warm up.

This male must have what it takes as two females seem interested. Poor guys are in the distance, all alone.

This male must have what it takes as two females seem interested. Poor guys are in the distance, all alone.

You can reserving a seat in a viewing blind by  calling 715-343-6215. Viewing starts at 4:30 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Buena Vista Marsh, Saturday at Mead Wildlife Area and Saturday and Sunday at Paul J. Olson Wildlife Area.

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