Life on a Prairie Chicken Lek

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It seems a bit like the movie groundhogs day each morning on the Prairie-Chicken Lek in central South Dakota. This hillside is the meeting ground each spring morning for all the local male Prairie Chickens. On top of that, this hillside has been the location for many years and counting - considering the grasslands is hundreds of square miles of rolling hills, I considered that part alone quite a geographic feat for the birds to congregate here each year.

This was my first "lek" experience, and going in I was not real sure what to expect other than the limited education I received from some youtube videos. I was astonished at the clockwork-like precision of the birds - from arrival time - to distance from each other - and of course to the dance they put on.

I arrived an hour before sun up - and as I had been instructed the birds arrived right on time - 45 minutes before the sun hit the horizon, all you could hear was a low 3 note bass sounding as the male prairie chickens started to dance - this sound can carry over a mile throughout the prairie and is repeated over and over as they quickly stomp their feet. Before sunrise, they would also follow this audio with a quick jump into the air as if to make their location known.

As the sun slowly lit up the ground and gave away their positions it was amazing to see that they had lined up so evenly spaced with about 50 feet between them, and remained that way for hours - each time another male would enter the territory of the other it was time for a quick battle, after which they seemed to take back their original positions spaced out so evenly until the next sparring match.

And what is all this about.....women of course.....eventually the female Prairie Chicken wanders onto the lek and finds her mate based on all this indescribable behavior. She clearly knows what she is looking for, but I am left here still trying to decipher what it is I got to see in the first place.

This was my first "

I arrived an hour before sun up - and as I had been instructed the birds arrived right on time - 45 minutes before the sun hit the horizon, all you could hear was a low 3 note bass sounding as the male prairie chickens started to dance - this sound can carry over a mile throughout the prairie and is repeated over and over as they quickly stomp their feet. Before sunrise, they would also follow this audio with a quick jump into the air as if to make their location known.

As the sun slowly lit up the ground and gave away their positions it was amazing to see that they had lined up so evenly spaced with about 50 feet between them, and remained that way for hours - each time another male would enter the territory of the other it was time for a quick battle, after which they seemed to take back their original positions spaced out so evenly until the next sparring match.

And what is all this about.....women of course.....eventually the female Prairie Chicken wanders onto the lek and finds her mate based on all this indescribable behavior. She clearly knows what she is looking for, but I am left here still trying to decipher what it is I got to see in the first place.

Enjoy the video,

 

Below are a few photos of the wild displays of the greater Prairie Chicken

Prairie Chicken Display On the Lek - South Dakota
‍Prairie Chicken Display On the Lek - South Dakota
2 male prairie chickens battle display
Time for battle - 2 Male Prairie Chicken
Prairie Chicken Attack
Prairie Chicken attack with a Meadowlark overlooking

Bill Van der Hagen

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