Greater Prairie Chickens of Northern Minnesota

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Elaborate dances and a booming call that can be heard for miles are traits of the Greater Prairie Chicken of Northern Minnesota and South Dakota.

The Greater Prairie Chicken–which as a long history in Minnesota was once as common as black birds–has only a few grasslands left to roam in, according to the Prairie Chicken Society.

One of the most famous aspects of the prairie chicken is its mating ritual called “booming.” The males start to stake out their territory called “leks” in September, but the chickens’ mating season ranges from the last couple weeks of April to May.

They start just before dawn with the males flying into an open area in the field and showing its orange throat that it can inflate when displaying. As females start to approach, the males will start “booming,” which is a sound produced from the inflated throat that sounds like blowing on a bottle when they are calling females during mating. The males then perform a dance where they appear to march rapidly in place.

The Greater Prairie Chicken population has been in decline due to over-hunting and the loss of their prairie habitat, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Once believed to have been in the thousands, some areas have been reduced to only a few hundred, while most only live on protected grassland. 

Some species such as the Heath Hen have been extinct since 1932. The Attwater’s Prairie Chicken only survives in small number in Southeast Texas and is listed as endangered. Some states, including Kansas, have started their own conservation efforts to restore the native chicken populations. Kansas has a program that will import chickens from other states with higher numbers, hoping they will begin to repopulate and bring their levels up to 3,000, said Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.