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Discover Nature: Prairie Chickens

A male greater prairie chicken, with black & white spotted back and orange patches on head and neck, stands in a field as the sunrises behind him.
A male greater prairie chicken stands in a field at sunrise. With their numbers dwindling, greater prairie-chickens need strong conservation support. Now endangered in Missouri, prairie-chickens breed from March through May.

The lonesome calls of Missouri mornings on the prairie – once produced by hundreds of thousands of birds across our state – now hold the haunting story of a species nearly eliminated from our landscape.



Each spring, male prairie chickens return to breeding grounds, called leks, to perform unique mating rituals. Each male defends his territory from competing cocks, inflating bright orange air sacs on his neck, and producing distinct “booming” call. 


Males charge at each other, jump into the air, stomp their feet, and fight, in a colorful display, as females watch and select the most impressive mates. 


Human destruction of all but one-half of one-percent of Missouri’s original prairie has left only about 300 of these now-endangered birds on the landscape.


It’s up to humans to restore and preserve the prairie habitats these magnificent birds require for survival. Agricultural practices that support diverse native grasslands, and other methods of protecting prairies in Missouri can help prevent these birds from going extinct. 


Listen for prairie chickens this spring as they begin mating. Their booming calls are a sound of healthy grassland ecosystems. 


Learn more about prairie chickens, hear recordings of their calls, and watch video of their mating rituals with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide


Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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