Places to Go

By |
From Missouri Conservationist: April 2018

Northwest Region:  Pawnee Prairie Natural Area

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.

What to do when you visit

  • Bird-Watching - Included in the Great Missouri Birding Trail and in the National Audubon Society’s Grand River Grasslands Important Bird Area. The eBird list of birds recorded at Pawnee Prairie NA is available at
  • Hunting - Deer Deer hunting regulations are subject to annual changes, so refer to the Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet for current regulations. “Early in April, we’re still having somebirds that had come down for the winter, so you might be seeing shorteared owls, harriers, or kestrels.

What to look for when you visit

  • Greater prairie-chicken
  • American badger
  • Eastern meadowlark
  • White-tailed deer

—Pawnee Prairie Natural Area Manager Jesse Kamps

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler