Prairie Chicken Release Gives Population at The Nature Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch Prairie a Boost
Prairie chickens were relocated from Nebraska to augment an existing population that has been in decline due to habitat loss and harsh weather conditions.
Forty-five greater prairie chickens were released at The Nature Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch Prairie in northwest Missouri this month. The release is the second of three that will take place over three years to enhance the existing prairie chicken population at Dunn Ranch Prairie. Last year, 34 birds were released at the site.
Prairie chicken numbers have been in decline primarily because of habitat loss and fragmentation; at Dunn Ranch Prairie, the population has also suffered from harsh winters and wet, cool springs over the past several years.
Last year’s release seems to have benefited the prairie chickens: a count this spring found 12 birds, indicating survival and reproductive success. “Last year we sighted six males and no females,” said Conservancy site manager Randy Arndt. “This year we had seven males and five females, so it looks like we had some successful nesting last year.”
The release was completed in cooperation with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Blank Park Zoo, and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). The prairie chickens were trapped on privately owned land in Burwell, Nebraska, where the birds are more plentiful.
Prior to their release, the female prairie chickens were outfitted with radio telemetry collars and will be tracked through the nesting season by MDC employees. “The reason we’re tracking them is to hone in on their preferences in habitat in the landscape,” said Dave Hoover, MDC wildlife management biologist. “We’ll see their preferences for nesting locations, raising their young and how successful we are at relocating birds back into the population.”
The results will help biologists make habitat management decisions on public lands and offer good advice to private landowners who wish to improve conditions for grassland birds.
Conservancy employees are also helping to monitor the prairie chicken population. If you see a prairie chicken with a red leg band, please contact the Dunn Ranch Prairie office at (660) 867-3866. It will aid with the tracking of un-collared birds.
Prairie chickens are stocky, brown, medium-sized birds. The males have inflatable, bright orange sacs on the sides of their necks. Prairie chickens are popular among bird watchers; people have been known to drive hundreds of miles to see the birds’ elaborate mating dances and to hear the characteristic “booming” mating call.
Prairie chickens breed and nest only on prairies. Although more than a third of Missouri was originally tallgrass prairie, less than one percent of our original tallgrass prairie remains. The Conservancy, private landowners, and partner organizations are working together to connect and restore the remaining grasslands in the region.
Grasslands are important not only for native species, but also for people. They clean water, prevent floods, recharge water tables, and store carbon. Grasslands are great places for hunting, birding, and hiking, and they benefit ranching communities by providing forage for livestock even in times of severe drought.
The 3,200-acre Dunn Ranch Prairie contains the largest expanse of unplowed prairie in northern Missouri. The Conservancy has worked to restore the site for over a decade using a myriad of management techniques, including controlled burns, bison grazing, tree removal, and invasive species control.
The restoration has resulted in healthy breeding and nesting habitat for prairie chickens and other grassland birds. The population at Dunn Ranch Prairie established itself there naturally from prairie chicken populations in Iowa.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org