The Prairie Chicken Bed and Breakfast
four and a half years ago and some people drove all the way here - to Dade County from St. Louis - just to see prairie chickens. You know, they were birders and wanted to add them to their life lists," explained Elaine Kaelke the night before we rose early to watch the birds. "And they stopped on our road and started asking me a few questions. And here Karlos and I were, having had these prairie chickens around our farm all these years, and it was kind of embarrassing how little we knew about them."
When the St. Louisans told Elaine they were going to drive an hour back to Nevada to stay in a hotel, her wheels began to turn. "I didn't see why we couldn't just have people stay here instead of driving all that way." The next spring, she and Karlos opened the Prairie Chicken Bed and Breakfast. Only open during the booming season, the Kealke's B & B has drawn avid bird watchers, biology classes from William Jewell College and many prairie chicken neophytes.
There are no theme rooms, excessive doilies or overdosed baskets of potpourri at the Prairie Chicken Bed and Breakfast. Guests stay in rooms recently vacated by the Kaelke children, who are away at school. One room is filled with things a college student has little use for in a dormitory: her Most Improved Basketball Player award, a high school prom picture and extra stuffed animals. The room is clean, and the bed cozy. Anything else might make it hard to muster much pre-dawn enthusiasm for prairie chickens. Sleep late at the Prairie Chicken Bed and Breakfast and you miss the whole show.
Usually, guests are surprised to learn fewer than 3,000 prairie chickens survive in Missouri. Since the Civil War, Missouri's 15 million acres of expansive prairie have dwindled to less than 50,000 acres of pocketed prairie concentrated mainly in the southwest part of the state. Sod plow blades and meandering cattle diminished the prairie, and so went the chickens.
Nests are vulnerable. They are flimsy and rest on weedy ground or in high, arching clumps of grass. A clutch of 10 to 12 eggs may fall victim to farm machinery. Raptors, such as owls and hawks, thrive in nearby tree lines and snatch chicks and adults alike. Once a booming ground or nearby nesting area is destroyed, the birds have a terrible time adapting