Since the 1950s, prairie chickens have been dwindling in Missouri. But these charismatic birds—known for their “booming” mating calls—are making a comeback at the Dunn Ranch Prairie thanks to the efforts of The Nature Conservancy and its partners.
Room to Nest
Prairie chickens are stocky, brown, medium-sized birds. Devoted birdwatchers drive hundreds of miles to see the birds’ elaborate mating dances and to hear the characteristic “booming” mating call. As their name implies, these birds rely on prairies—the only place where they will breed and nest.
Dunn Ranch Prairie
Unfortunately, less than one percent of Missouri’s original tallgrass prairie remains. The Dunn Ranch Prairie, where the Conservancy has worked since 1999, is the best opportunity to restore a fully functioning tallgrass prairie in the region.
Challenges to Overcome
Over the years, prairie chickens have come and gone from Dunn Ranch and the surrounding Grand River Grasslands—affected by habitat loss and more recently, extreme weather. By 2011, fewer than 20 prairie chickens remained at Dunn Ranch Prairie. So the following year, the Conservancy and partners launched a program to trap and relocate 100 prairie chickens each spring.
Working with Partners
The Nature Conservancy works with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to trap the birds on private lands where they are more abundant. Together, the organizations tag and track the released prairie chickens in order to help biologists better manage public lands and offer good advice to private landowners looking for ways to improve conditions for grassland birds.
Trap and Release
This year, the Missouri Department of Conservation trapped 100 birds the first nine days of April and released them in the Grand River Grasslands, . Forty of the birds were released at Kellerton Bird Conservation Area in Iowa and 60 were released at Dunn Ranch Prairie.
In Good Company
Prairie Chickens are not the first species to make a new home at Dunn Ranch Prairie. A bison herd, reintroduced in 2011, helps keep the prairie in balance: the herd's selective grazing benefits all native prairie plants and animals.
On the Way to Success
Early signs point to initial success for this relocation project. Doug Ladd, Missouri’s Director of Conservation says: “Without what we've done — without conservation activity — they'd be gone. We would have already lost the prairie chicken, and it's the icon of the tallgrass prairie. If it's lost forever, we've lost part of the richness of our lives.”