A free viewing event of wild prairie chickens is being offered this spring at Dunn Ranch Prairie in Harrison County by the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy.
Keith Bennett, seed harvest and prairie restoration tech, said the greater prairie chickens are endangered in Missouri, and the annual viewing is a chance for the public to view the species in the wild.
The species once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the state.
Bennett said the loss of suitable habitat is one of the largest reasons for the decline in the species population.
Their natural habitat is tallgrass prairie, and very little prairie habitat remains in the state due to changes in land use patterns.
The viewing of the birds is open during the breeding season. The male birds strut and make booming sounds on the hilltop at dawn in a mating ritual to attract females.
Bennet said about 75 to 100 people view the birds each year.
He said Dunn Ranch is owned by The Nature Conservancy but the organization partnered with the conservation department to transfer birds from Nebraska for five years.
“After we had several years of poor breeding conditions and the bird population declined here, we went to Nebraska and trapped more prairie chickens to bring into Missouri,” Bennett said. “The conservation department was a big part of that.”
He said the current population of birds has remained stable in the area.
The prairie-chicken viewing on Dunn Ranch Prairie occurs within the conservation department’s Grand River Grasslands focus area, where the goal is to restore sustainable grassland ecosystems for all species of wildlife.
Bennett said Dunn Ranch is also home to about 200 bison that can be viewed during the same time frame.
The conservation department and the conservancy work with multiple partners in Missouri and Iowa, including private landowners to boost populations of prairie chickens and other grassland species.
Reservations are required for the viewing and space is limited. The viewing blind is provided and holds only eight people. The viewings will be on specified days beginning March 26 and ending April 19. The exact meeting times and locations will be provided when participants make reservations.
For more information or to make a reservation for prairie-chicken viewing, call the conservation department’s Northwest Regional office in St. Joseph at 816-271-3100. To learn more about Missouri’s endangered prairie chicken population, visit short.mdc.mo.gov/ZGu.