Great State: Praise for the Prairie Chicken

WOODWARD COUNTY, OKLAHOMA — Every Spring Sue Selman hits the dirt roads around her ranch north of Woodward, Oklahoma.

She drives the rolling, treeless prairies looking for the booming grounds of the Lesser Prairie Chicken.

“This is their Spring breeding ground,” she says driving to an empty section of pasture.

She listens too, for the males who start calling in March, and that perform a unique dance to attract the right mates.

“They’re amazing birds,” says Selman. “They’re so much fun to watch and unique, very unique.”

She sets up blinds for visitors.

For me she drove as close as she dared.

We found a group of 4 roosters watching us cautiously, then resuming their performance for any hen that might have been nearby.

“They’re kind of like a bunch of teenage boys hanging out at the Sonic,” laughs Sue.

These birds have lost habitat. They fly into fences, and it doesn’t help that so many other animals seem to like the taste of chicken.

We watched two Harrier Hawks try their luck at grabbing a quick meal.

They hunted as a pair, one on each side, but came away empty.

Selman said, “I’ve never seen that before. It was amazing.”

Their booming grounds are called leks by birders.

Prairie Chickens come back to them year after year to the same patches of buffalo grass and broom weed.

They thrive far away from human settlement but this dance lures birders from all over the world anyway.

Selman says, “This year I’ve been covered up with people calling and wanting to see Prairie Chickens because they may be listed as endangered and everyone knows they may just blink out.”

They are the true ‘boomers’ in Oklahoma, hanging on to their bit of prairie performing for an audience all their own.

April 10 thru 17 marks the annual Prairie Chicken Festival in Oklahoma.

There are events planned all week for both the Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken.

If you’d like to know more here’s a link at http://www.lektreks.org or http://www.selmanguestranch.com .