By Larry Archer
Where prairie-chickens dance in northwest Missouri.
An island of native grasslands surrounded by a sea of crop and pastureland in northwest Missouri, Pawnee Prairie Natural Area serves as a crossroads for migrating birds, and in April, keen-eyed birders can catch them coming and going.
But even with a buffet of grassland species and returning Neotropical migrants, it’s a single species that draws most birders to the 476-acre natural area in Harrison County, said Wildlife Management Biologist Jesse Kamps, Pawnee Prairie’s manager.
“In April, I’d say pretty much the only thing you’re going to see anybody out there doing would be bird-watching,” he said. “And they’re probably hoping to see prairie-chickens.”
An icon of the area’s open-prairie past, the male prairie-chicken’s elaborate mating dance is a sight many are willing to spend chilly, motionless pre-dawn hours to see. While occasional visitors to Pawnee Prairie, any prairie-chickens seen there are likely spillovers from the nearby — and much larger — Dunn Ranch Prairie, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy.
“Dunn Ranch generally has the brunt of the groups of birds displaying there, but some of the outlying areas, some of the private ranches around there, will also have birds displaying,” Kamps said. “Pawnee can have birds displaying.”
Pawnee Prairie Natural Area consists of 476 acres in Harrison County. From Hatfield, take W. 140 Ave. south one-half mile.
—Pawnee Prairie Natural Area Manager Jesse Kamps
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