By Allison Hagene
The farming industry has been the biggest threat to the bird’s survival, destroying thousands of acres of natural habitat to use for agricultural purpose. Agricultural pesticides also kill insects that prairie chickens depend on.
Greater Prairie Chickens are non-migratory bird. When their habitat is destroyed, they have nowhere to go. They have no alternate destination. The tall, dense grasses in Missouri prairies enable the birds to nest, hide, and raise their young, without the ecosystem they depend on, they are extremely vulnerable. Deprived of their homes the Prairie Chickens are unable to reproduce productively and lose diversity.
Missouri Prairie Chickens are birds similar in size to the domestic chicken. They have distinguished tufts of feathers on the sides of their necks, and males have orange air sacks and eyebrows during the spring season. They display bars of brown, tan, and rusty colors.
Prairie chickens require wide open areas of diverse grassland to survive, which is a huge issue for their population. Loss of habitat has decimated prairie chicken populations since the mid 1900’s. Where there used to be hundreds of thousands of prairie chickens, there are now less than 100. Prairie conservation is the key to their continuance.
Prairie chickens are a great indicator of a healthy grassland ecosystem, they play a role in the interconnected environment of plants and animals that exist in Missouri prairies. Prairie chickens help control insect populations and are also food for organisms higher on the food chain. Helping maintain and increase prairie chicken populations will not only cultivate healthy prairies, but also benefit other species as well.
The Missouri Department of Conservation consistently monitors prairie chicken populations in the state. MDC officials currently do not plan to relocate any chickens from other western states as they have previously done from Nebraska and Kansas, since there is currently not enough habitat to sustain populations.
“We’ve learned how to provide excellent habitat for prairie-chickens,” said Max Alleger, grassland biologist for MDC. “But there is still not enough of this habitat across Missouri.”
The most vital way to protect this bird species is to maintain grasslands, prairies, and meadows. Steps must be taken to protect bird habitat and to ensure that ecosystems remain wild, unpolluted, and undisturbed.
The less human disruption and invasion, the better for not only these birds, but also many other species. Spotting one of these unique birds, at this point, could very well be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
If you want to try and see a prairie chicken, visit one of these spots:
- Taberville Prairie Conservation Area in St. Clair County
- Wah’Kontah Prairie in Cedar County
- Dunn Ranch Prairie in Harrison County
For more information, visit: