April 30 , 2006
Imagine that you are a Prairie Chicken. Imagine that it is one thousand years ago. Your grassland habitat extends for thousands of miles across North America. Your numbers are kept in check by predators: wolves, coyotes, foxes and the occasional native American Indian who hunts throughout your range, but life is in balance. Life is good. There are millions and millions of you.
The year is now 1800. A new race of humans are invading your territory. They seem to have little regard for you as a species. They aren't as plentiful as you and your range throughout North America is still intact.
By 1850, things aren't looking very good for you. White man is moving west and as they move, they are killing you off by the ton and shipping you to cities by rail. In Wisconsin, game laws are passed to allow for "open season" hunting three months out of the year, but it has little effect.
It's now the 1870's and you are the last remaining Prairie Chicken in what is called "Ohio". Your species has been decimated. Years and years of blatant killing and loss of habitat has wiped you off the map throughout most of what is called the eastern United States.
Things continue to get worse for you as the occupying humans continue to cultivate what was once a vast open prairie. By the 1920's, your habitat range is broken up into small islands across the midwest United States. Most states have limited hunting on your species, but that doesn't help much. You have nowhere to live.
We now come to present day America. You are a Prairie Chicken in what is called "Central Wisconsin". You live in a grassland preserve called The Buena Vista Grasslands. Your local population is fairly constant, but you can only dream of centuries ago when earth was in balance and life was good. Those days are gone forever. But there are some people today who care about you and are doing whatever they can to help you survive as a species.
These efforts started in 1957, thanks to the husband and wife team of biologists Fred and Frances Hamerstrom. They raised the red flag that probably saved you from extirpation in Wisconsin. (Back in 1957 they estimated that within two years Prairie Chickens would no longer be found in Wisconsin.) With their help and many others, you now have 15,000 acres on which to roam and breed.
As you roam and breed amongst the many acres available to you, you sometimes run (or fly) across some strange looking boxes. These boxes are (for the most part) unoccupied, but during the spring countless humans lock themselves in these boxes to watch us. Who would be crazy enough to get up way before sunrise in the morning cold to do this?
You are now a human. Your first name is Alan, but it has nothing to do with the guy who runs this website. Alan is just an arbitrary name for this story. You wake up a 3 O'Clock in the morning and ask yourself "Who would be crazy enough to get up way before sunrise in the morning cold to view Prairie Chickens from a bird blind?" You don't answer the question. It is rhetorical.
You arrive at Buena Vista Grasslands in the dark. It's Wednesday, April 26th. It's a chilly morning. The temperature is 28 degrees (F). The sky is full of stars, the air is still, you are the only one there. You wonder if you are in the right place to meet your guide that will take you out to the bird blind. Minutes pass and soon you see a headlight coming up the road. It ends up being a carload of other crazy people wanting to see a Prairie Chicken. Soon afterward, your guide shows up and leads you to where you will view the Prairie Chickens.
He tells you that your bird blind is about about 1/2 mile to the east. He says to just follow the ruts in the road. The road ends up not being a road. It's a couple of tire tracks in the grass. You have a flashlight, but it's hard to follow the tracks. You walk for what you think was 1/2 mile and there is nothing to see except grass. You now can see a glimpse of light to the northeast. You hope that you find the bird blinds before the Prairie Chickens start booming.
At 4:50 AM, you see a couple of small wooden boxes up ahead. You reach the boxes and they look smaller than you had imagined. You climb in and shut the door. It's a tad darker than the dark outside of the box. With your flashlight, you find a small wooden bench and sit down. You wait in the dark for the first sounds of the day.
At 5:15 AM, you can now see daylight through a crack in the door. You hear what you think might be a Prairie Chicken, but your not sure. You wait a few minutes and then realize that it was a male Prairie Chicken booming. You open one of the bird blind windows, but you really can't see too much. It's still too dark, but there are some really strange sounds occurring just outside your door.
By 6 AM, things are really booming now. There are 8 to 10 male Prairie Chickens booming, strutting, sparring and dancing around. They stomp their feet on the ground over and over again while their side sacks fill with air. It's almost as if they are pumping themselves up with their feet.
This continues for another hour, but by 7AM they aren't as active as they were an hour ago. They are still doing most of their breeding rituals, but with less frequency. Unfortunately, it is near the end of April, and there are no females present. It would have been nice to see them too but most of them have already been bred and some are already sitting on eggs.
At about 7:10, two low-flying Sandhill Cranes fly overhead and freak out most of the male Prairie Chickens. Only three remain and after sitting in a cold box for more than two hours, it's time to leave.
|Two male Prairie Chickens sparring over territorial rights.|