Bringing the Boom Back to Missouri
maintains itself through the years can we claim success. However, we're pleased with the results so far. Some birds have remained in the general area of release, while others are quite mobile and have moved as far as 25 miles.
"Since both types of birds have attempted to raise young, we consider this a positive attribute. Without doubt they're better at selecting proper prairie chicken habitat than a biologist. The other measure of success is the establishment of booming grounds, and we know of four."
George shifts the pickup into low as we pull off the gravel road and make our way to the designated release site. We stop on top of a hill where we see rolling grassland in all directions. The sun is just rising over a pond in the distance, and a few ducks noisily land on the water.
It is easy to distinguish the sound of a nearby prairie chicken booming ground. Each spring, male prairie chickens display a colorful courtship ritual on their booming ground. Their distinctive call sounds like the noise children make when pursing their lips and blowing across the top of a soda bottle. The wind catches the males' eerie song and carries it across miles to both listening humans and prairie chicken hens.
Most of the trees I see at this release site hug the edge of the pond, away from the panoramic expanse of grassland. It is important not to release the birds onto islands of grass surrounded by trees. Hawks are effective prairie chicken predators. The proximity of trees would give the hawks a ringside seat for an easy meal.
The grass where George has set the wooden release boxes begins to take on a pink tint as the sun inches higher. Both the prairie chicken release boxes and traps have been specially designed by Conservation Department staff. The traps are small rectangular cages, approximately 3 feet wide, 5 feet long and 2 feet high.
Conservation Department biologists place these traps on a booming ground with 2-foot-high wire drift fences that funnel the birds into the trap opening. When on their booming ground, the prairie chickens are territorial and focused on the mating activity at hand; the presence of the cages does not scare them away.
The birds do not seem to understand wire, and they walk into the traps without any kind of bait. Biologists control the trap doors; if they just need females, for