St. Joseph, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and The Nature Conservancy will offer the public a chance to watch prairie chickens “booming” in the their sunrise mating dance at Dunn Ranch. Prairie chickens are endangered in Missouri but a two-state program has restored them to the Dunn Ranch area in Harrison County. Limited spots will be available for viewing from a blind, Thursdays through Sundays, March 30-April 23.
MDC’s Pawnee Prairie Natural Area and the Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch Prairie are center points in public-private partnerships to aid grassland birds, agriculture and natural life in the Grand River Grasslands. Both areas are west of Eagleville in northwest Missouri. The grassland partnerships extend across public and private land in both nearby Iowa and Missouri.
Dunn Ranch provides a viewing blind on a lek, or booming ground. Prairie chickens mingle on the lek at dawn and the males do a courtship dance for the hens. Eight viewing spots are available per morning. Advance registration is required. The viewing is free.
Guests will meet a guide at the parking lot at Dunn Ranch along Highway M one hour and 15 minutes before sunrise. This will allow time for the group to get into the blind before the prairie chickens arrive on the booming grounds. Guests must be able to hike one-half mile uphill from the parking lot to the blind. Participants should expect to be in the viewing blind a minimum of two hours. There are no restrooms at the blind.
Use of the viewing blind is by reservation only. To minimize disturbance to the prairie chickens, visiting the blind and booming grounds without a guide is not allowed.
Prairie chicken numbers dipped precariously low in the Dunn Ranch area during the past decade due primarily to poor weather during the nesting season. In 2011, only 18 males were counted on leks on either side of the Iowa-Missouri line. But numbers have improved due to good grassland habitat management by MDC and the Conservancy, favorable weather, and a two-state effort to translocate prairie chickens from Nebraska to the Grand River Grasslands. Biologists estimate the entire population has rebounded to 125 to 150 birds, based on last spring’s lek counts.
To register for prairie chicken viewing, contact MDC’s Northwest Regional Office in St. Joseph, 816-271-3100. Guests will be sent a registration packet with maps, times, notes about photography and instructions on what to bring.
For more information about prairie chickens in Missouri, visit https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/greater-prairie-chicken. Information about MDC’s Pawnee Prairie is available at http://on.mo.gov/2lPK1Ye.
For information about the Grand River Grasslands and the Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch, visit http://bit.ly/RmQ4Rr.