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New Mexico

Prairie Chicken Viewing FAQ’s

What is the High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival?
Nature enthusiasts from around the country will hear the annual calls of the lesser prairie chickens each April and flock to Milnesand, N.M., for opportunities to see the birds' colorful, sometimes comical, mating rituals on the prairie grasslands of southeastern New Mexico. 

Festival participants will have opportunities to: 

  • Observe and photograph the mating rituals of the lesser prairie-chicken at close range, either from the comfort of a passenger van or in a mobile blind ($35 per person for blinds)
  • Bird watch with some of the best birders in New Mexico (Download the High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival Bird Checklist)
  • Talk with ranchers and biologists working to conserve prairie chickens
  • Learn about the Southern Great Plains ecosystem
  • Enjoy good food and Western hospitality 

Festival sponsors include the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the Nature Conservancy of New Mexico, the Grasslans Charitable Foundation, and the Community of Milnesand.

When is the 12th Annual High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival?
The next festival will be held April 19-21, 2013. Download the schedule/registration materials for this year's festival.

How do participants view the prairie chickens?
During the High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival, we take you to view the displaying chickens in 12-15 passenger vans, typically 10 people to a van. We arrive at the lek site in the pre-dawn darkness and park at a spot previously determined to be good for viewing that particular lek. 

Once there, we await the sunrise and the arriving chickens. Some typically fly in while it is still too dark to see them, so we usually hear them before it is light enough to see them. 

We will stay until about 8 a.m. when the intensity of the displaying wanes and the birds move off the lek to feed. Point and shoot photo opportunities are available from the van, but there isn’t room for big lenses and other bulky equipment. We are normally very close to the displaying birds, and the quality of the viewing experience seems to exceed virtually everyone’s expectations. 

In the 11 years we’ve been conducting the Festival, we have never had someone not get to see the displaying chickens! 

For those of you who would like the elbow room to exercise more serious photo equipment, (big lenses, etc.) we offer space in a mobile photo blind on a first-come-first-served basis and for an additional fee of $35 per day. 

Space is very limited, and once again, this opportunity is designed for photographers. As is the case with the vans, we are able to get rather close to the birds. 

What is a “lek?”
By the strictest definition, a “lek” is the group of displaying prairie chickens while the area on which they are displaying is (for lesser prairie chickens) called a “gobbling ground.” Modern common usage, however, has “lek” referring to both the birds and the site of their displays.

How do I register?
Download the schedule/registration materials for this year's festival.

How much does it cost?
The cost is $125 per person (adult or child).

Are discounts available for senior citizens or youngsters?
Unfortunately, no. Since we can only accommodate 100 people for the weekend we cannot afford to discount any of the limited spaces available. 

When do I need to register?
Register now…We fill up fast! 

What’s included in the registration fee?
The fee includes Friday supper, Saturday and Sunday breakfasts, Saturday lunch and Saturday dinner, a commemorative poster and entry to all events. There is no discount or refund for registrants who do not eat meals or attend an event. 

What about refunds if I have to cancel?
If someone decides that they cannot attend after they have registered, they will be refunded in full if we are notified by the date designated in the registration materials. No refunds will be made after that time. Registrations received after we have filled all available spaces will be returned. 

How do I get to Milnesand?
Milnesand is 45 minutes south of Portales, NM on State Highway 206. For those of you navigating by GPS, Milnesand is included in most databases…just watch the spelling! 

The GPS coordinates are N33.64186, W103.33991 or N33° 38’ 30.7”, W103° 20’ 23.7” 

What are the accommodations?
Self-contained RV and primitive tent sites will be available for free in Milnesand. Electrical hookups for RVs are $35. There are no RV sewage or water hookups, but a limited number of electrical connections are available. Chemical toilets will be available to supplement our indoor facilities. The nearest motels are in Portales, NM.

Is transportation provided for the tours once I arrive?
Yes, we will provide transportation (vans) from Milnesand to all tours and events. 

Can I take my own vehicle out to view the lek sites or go on the tours?
No.

What is the schedule of events?
Download the schedule/registration materials for this year's festival.

Can I view the prairie chickens in my own car during the Festival?
No one will be allowed to take their personal vehicle to view birds on the leks. Once we are at the lek, no one will be allowed out of the vehicle. No toilets are available at the leks or on the tours. No pets are allowed at the lek sites or on the tours. 

Are there bathrooms at the leks?
No! You will be encouraged to not drink too much coffee, etc. before we set off to the leks in the morning! 

We will be confined to the vans/blind for up to three hours; anyone who exits the van/blind will flush the birds and ruin the viewing for everyone. 

Are photographic blinds available at the lek sites?
Yes, there will be a limited number of spaces available in a portable trailer blind for an additional fee of $35 per person.  Simple point and shoot photography can be accomplished from the vans; these blind spaces are designed primarily for people with telephoto or other bulky photo equipment that cannot be accommodated easily in a van. Those interested must request a blind space on their registration form. 

Do I have a better chance of seeing the chickens display if I sign up for the photo blind?
No! We realize that usually bird-watching entails some risk of not seeing the bird you are looking for, but in the ten years we have been conducting the Festival we have never had anyone leave without seeing the birds. The vans normally provide a viewing experience that exceeds most people’s expectations. The photo blind is intended for those folks with large, bulky camera lenses and other equipment that we cannot accommodate in a van. 

Are children welcome at this Festival?
While a few folks have brought young children over the years, the logistics of viewing the chickens do not usually suit children well. We need to drive to the leks at 5 A.M. and will be spending up to three hours confined to vans or blinds; this timing doesn’t typically fit the schedule and attention spans of young children. Also, due to the limited spaces available, no fee discounts are available for children.
 
What if I have unique dietary needs?
Our cooks prepare vegetarian meals to accommodate those who request them on their registration form. 

If you have particularly restrictive dietary needs, however, you should probably plan to bring your own food. We can try to help by providing refrigerator space as needed, for example, but we are not equipped to prepare individualized meals beyond basic vegetarian fare. 

Is gasoline available in Milnesand?
Milnesand is a remote rural crossroads and while we do have a small country store that sells gasoline, it is only open limited hours and they can occasionally run out of fuel. We recommend that you fill up in Portales or Tatum on your way in as our area is fairly isolated. 

Will I have cell phone service?
That depends. There is a cell tower in Milnesand but it may not accommodate all services. We will be headquartered at the Milnesand Community Center and the number there is 575-675-2411 if you need to be reached in an emergency and a cell phone call won’t go through. 

I’m a very serious photographer that would like some extended opportunities to photograph the birds. Are any such opportunities available?
No photography workshops will be available at the 2013 Festival.

Where can I get more information?
If you have a question that is not sufficiently addressed you can email us at chickenfestival@yahoo.com or call Tish McDaniel at (575) 762-6997, or Willard Heck at (575) 273-4360.

>>Return to High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival Main Page

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