MDC tracking Grand River Grassland prairie chickens

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Eagleville, Mo. – Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) biologists are using radio telemetry to monitor 20 female prairie chickens released this spring at Dunn Ranch in Harrison County. Those hens and 19 males were trapped in east-central Nebraska and released in an effort to restore an iconic prairie species in northwest Missouri. The releases are part of a broad partnership with public agencies, non-profit groups and private landowners to improve plant, fish and wildlife diversity in a focus area called the Grand River Grasslands.

Less than one percent of Missouri's once vast native prairie remains. As a result, grassland species have diminished. Prairie chickens that once numbered in the hundreds of thousands dwindled and are endangered in Missouri. Limited habitat combined with poor weather conditions over the past two decades caused prairie chicken numbers to dwindle to a few dozen, mostly in northwest and southwest Missouri.

But the Grand River Grasslands partnership is making strides in restoring prairie chicken habitat, and hopefully the prairie chicken flocks to sustainable population levels. Studies such as monitoring movements by hens outfitted with small radio telemetry transmitters help land managers know what habitat best helps prairie chickens successfully hatch young, rear broods and survive winter.

"This helps us to monitor nest site selection by the hens," said David Hoover, MDC Wildlife Management Biologist. "We can determine nesting success and determine brood survival."

Those results provide feedback and guide future decisions on how grassland habitats in the focus area are managed, and how well the prairie chicken population is responding.

Dunn Ranch is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy of Missouri (TNC). MDC owns the nearby Pawnee Prairie. MDC staff also works with private landowners in the Grand River Grasslands. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources conducts similar prairie chicken restoration efforts in the Grand River Grasslands with public and private partners. Prairie chickens from both states intermingle.

MDC recently expanded its portion of the Grand River Grasslands and it now includes the Grand Trace Conservation Area. For private land owners in the focus area, there are increased opportunities for cost sharing or grants for habitat improvements that can benefit both cattle forage and wildlife. Those interested in programs or advice on management can contact Kendall Coleman, MDC private lands conservationist, at 660-726-3746.

This is the third year prairie chickens have been trapped in Nebraska and released at Dunn Ranch and at nearby Kellerton Wildlife Management Area in Iowa. Biologists are seeing positive trends, Hoover said. Prairie chickens visit leks, also called booming grounds, to mate in spring. On April 11, observers counted 20 males and 11 hens on the main lek at Dunn Ranch. Most of those birds are believed to have been present before releases this spring. Some have no leg bands, so they were hatched and reared on the area or were residents before the relocation program began. That shows a positive trend because the same lek site had only four to six males in spring three years ago. Another positive sign are that some birds have been spotted on other leks not used for several years.

"This gives us encouragement that we did have a good nesting season last year," Hoover said. "So we are increasing the population."

For more information on prairie chickens in Missouri, visit For information on Grand River Grasslands, visit

For video of Missouri prairie chickens on a lek, visit