Saturday, March 22, 2014

Adventures in Prairie Chickens

I have been a little absent this week and am so far behind on reviews it is not even funny.  Work is CRAZY right now and it's only going to get crazier over the next couple weeks.  It is all because of this bird (not this one in particular, just in general):

That would be a Greater Prairie Chicken and no, they do not normally do their characteristic mating dance on top of a truck under a tree.  This particular individual has been making a name for himself in our small prairie chicken range for acting like a lunatic.  He's been strutting his stuff in the oddest places and has aggressively attacked people and ...well...trucks.  Around this time of year the male chickens get flooded with testosterone and basically become insanely stupid and foolhardy.  Biologically they have to, if they want to catch a lady.  Prairie Chicken's mating system require the males to gather on the highest spot in a grassland landscape where the vegetation is thinnest.  They want to be as visible as possible to any lady chickens that might visit which also means they are highly visible to any predators in the area. These gathering areas are called Leks and they are very similar to a singles bar.

And they don't just stand there.  They dance (as the one above is half-heartedly doing) which consists of head lowered and rapidly stamping their feet.  And they make all kinds of unusual sounds.  They inflate the two large air sacs on either side of their neck and "boom" (sounds like blowing air across the top of an empty soda bottle).  They cackle like hyenas and have a whoop that would put Michael Jackson to shame.  Don't believe me?  Check it out for yourself.  Being in a blind at sunrise in the middle of one of their lek sites as they begin this ritual is something I will never forget.  My favorite thing about the chickens:

Their orange eyebrows which you can just see peaking out in the above picture.  Just kidding!  While I do love their orange eyebrows, my favorite thing about the prairie chickens is that they capture folks interest and in turn highlight the importance of large prairie grassland landscapes.  Viva la Chicken!

Anyway, we are currently involved in an extensive project with these birds so I'll be spending much of my time doing early morning surveys out in the middle of nowhere where there is no internet access (horrors!).  I think it will be worth it though. 

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