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Boomtown madness: Prairie chicken rite of spring is fun

Prairie chickens divebomb, flutter dance and strut during their spring rituals. These were on the Blue Stem Prairie Preserve southeast of Glyndon. It’s a dramatic performance. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

BY Steve Maanum


There are many reasons I look forward to the end of winter each year and the spring courtship of prairie chickens is right at the top of the list.

If you have ever witnessed it; you know what I mean.

It’s like stepping back in time. When the first European settlers found their way to Minnesota they were greeted by approximately 20 million acres of bluestem prairie and its native bird – the greater prairie chicken. With the majority of Minnesota being prairie chicken habitat at that time, those pioneers heard and watched the same spring booming activities that I photographed in mid-April.

Carrol Henderson (MN DNR non-game supervisor) and Joe Courneya (Red River Basin Water Commission project coordinator) joined me for an early morning photo safari on the Blue Stem Prairie Preserve southeast of Glyndon.

The males whooped, stomped, and inflated their colorful air sacs in an attempt to attract females and ward off any other males that crossed the imaginary borders of the territory they claimed as theirs.

Approximately 35 males and 14 females kept us entertained from 5:20 – 8:45 that morning. In addition to the prairie chickens, a rooster pheasant chased a female prairie chicken and a wild turkey strutted through the lek (booming ground). Deer were visible in the longer surrounding grass and geese and ducks frequented the pond in the background.

The following photos are just a sampling of the morning’s drama.

I began sitting in the photo blinds on this particular booming ground back in the 1980s and for many of my years as a fifth grade teacher, I took students and parents along to share in this natural experience.

All of those students are now adults and may have families of their own. I have no idea whether they still remember that early morning trip or if they ever found their way back there (maybe with their own kids) for a repeat performance, but I know that being able to share that side of nature with them has made a lasting impression on me.

If you are looking for a way to share nature with your kids, consider a trip to a prairie chicken booming ground next April.