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Prairie-Chicken Vewing Etiquette

Please review the following if you are going to visit a prairie-chicken lek or booming ground.  Please relay this information to others that you might see at lek locations that are not observing the following guidelines.  

Do not get out of your vehicles and move about.  While males may tolerate this disturbance, hens that are briefly visiting the lek, will not.  The hens will likely leave immediately. The best rule to follow is STAY IN YOUR VEHICLES AND BE QUIET!  

The lek at High Lonesome has moved four times in recent years. Carloads of people have been observed near the lek, especially on weekends, standing in the road, hollering at each other about where to meet for breakfast, etc. This is unexceptable.  MDC is considering posting signs in parking lots about remaining in vehicles and not approaching a lek.  It is not easy to put signs up on private landowners' fences. A concerted effort by the birding community, as well as MDC and others, will be needed to educate observers. 

Recently, on a lek site near Green Ridge there were four males and two females.  Two vans and two sedans were observed at the site. The occupants got out and were moving about.  The females probably left quickly.

Many of you know the extraordinary care taken at Dunn Ranch at the viewing site.  We, the birding community, need to be self-regulated at sites where the owners have not established a viewing etiquette and guide program.  Those of you who have attended the Crane festival on the Platte River know what is needed to protect the unknowing public from harming what they have come to see and enjoy.    

Hens begin visiting the lek in April and, according to the Hamerstroms (long term prairie-chicken researchers) in Wisconsin, copulation occurs on the fifth morning of visiting the lek.  We have no idea what being flushed from the lek has on the hen's estros cycle and egg fertility but we must respect this critical factor in reproduction.

While observer behavior may not be responsible for prairie-chicken declines in recent years, we know the decline started in the 1940s, it is something we know is disruptive to the lekking process, and, it is something that we can control.

Brad Jacobs
Ornithologist
Missouri Department of Conservation

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