Stories in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota

Greater Prairie-Chicken Livestream

Two male prairie-chickens spar during mating season; one is leaping in the air, and the other is standing on the ground.
Greater prairie chicken Each spring, male greater prairie-chickens perform a spectacular display and feud with competitors, all to woo a female mate. © Mark Staples

It’s spring on the prairie, and that means it’s time for one of the best spectacles of nature in Minnesota: greater prairie-chickens dancing and booming to attract a mate. 

At dawn, male prairie-chickens venture out to a short-grass patch in the prairie known as a “lek,” where they perform an intricate courtship display in which they hop, strut, flap their wings, fill their vibrant orange air sacs and make a low booming sound. That’s why the behavior is known as “booming.” The displaying birds may even spar with other males, all for the attention of females. 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources placed a camera at The Nature Conservancy’s Bluestem Prairie Preserve in Clay County, Minnesota, and is maintaining a live feed of a greater prairie-chicken lek. 

Livestream Greater prairie-chickens are usually active between 7 and 9 a.m. You can rewind the video up to 12 hours to see the birds in action.

Prairie-chicken hens venture out onto the lek to scout a mate. A female signals to a male that she’s interested by dropping her wings and squatting. They mate on the lek, and then the hen finds taller grass to set up her nest and lay her dozen or so eggs.

Prairie-chickens were once abundant across the Great Plains. Today, there are only about 360,000 living in small pockets of grassland like Bluestem Prairie, which is one of the largest and highest quality remaining northern tallgrass prairies.

Habitat loss is the main culprit for the greater prairie-chicken’s decline. The birds rely on large, nearly treeless grassland. Most of their original range has been converted to agriculture over the last several decades, reducing their suitable habitat to a small fraction of what it once was. 

The work that TNC and other conservation organizations do to protect and restore habitat helps ensure the prairie-chickens can continue to survive. Prescribed burning helps keep grasslands free of trees, and conservation easements help landowners keep grasslands intact.

Prairie grasses.
Native grasses at Bluestem Prairie TNC's Bluestem Prairie is one of the largest and best remaining tallgrass prairies. © Richard Hamilton Smith