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Nature's Slow Take on Speed Dating

Mar 03, 2019

As the sun rises over the prairie, the lonesome, haunting calls of prairie chickens signal an ageless ritual.

Beginning in March, the males gather at dawn and again toward evening on what is called a lek or booming ground. Males defend part of the lek from other males and suck air into bright orange air sacs found on both sides of their neck. This booming call draws females to the lek who watch coyly from the sidelines as males charge each other, jump into the air, fight, and stamp their feet. Females then choose their mate.

Prairie chickens are cousins to quail and ruffed grouse and depend on native grasslands. Protection of these prairie homes will help these boomers continue to greet the sunrises of spring.

Saving the Prairie Chicken

  • To restore Missouri's declining prairie chicken population, MDC works with landowners where prairie chicken restoration efforts are underway.
  • Today there are less than 100 birds left in the state.
  • Grasslands that meet the needs of nesting hens and young broods have become so scarce that biologists worry prairie chickens could become extirpated in Missouri.
  • Private landowners who have large acreages near prairie chicken restoration sites (mostly in the western part of the state) can help prairie chickens by creating more nesting and brood-rearing habitat on their property. This will benefit not only prairie chickens, but also a whole suite of grassland birds that include bobwhite quail, eastern meadowlark and eastern kingbirds.

Discover how you can help save the prairie chicken population.


Prairie chickens
Prairie chickens
Prairie chicken hens watch the males compete before choosing a mate

The Prairie Chicken in Missouri (1948)

1948 film on prairie chicken ritual and first known time that their sound was synced with film
1948 film on prairie chicken ritual and first known time that their sound was synced with film

prairie chicken.jpg

prairie chicken
prairie chicken
Male prairie chickens dance and make a deep, low coo described as a booming sound when they court females on leks where the birds meet for spring mating.

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