Portage Co. prairie chickens embark on annual ritual - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Portage Co. prairie chickens embark on annual ritual


Portage County, Wisconsin is one of a few places where Prairie Chickens roam wild.

But to see them, you've got to be in place hours before sunrise.

Walking toward an observation blind in the darkness of the 4 a.m. hour, the sound of crunching dry grass is the only sound you can hear.

Upon arrival at the blind, a small wooden shelter with small windows, our observation group barricaded in dark and silence awaiting the sunrise.

As the early morning ticks on and the horizon illuminates, an experience in one of nature's interesting rituals begins to unfold.

"It's so prehistoric," Tom Young told Newsline 9.

Young is a photographer from Waupaca. He's hunkered in the observation blind to listen to the odd sounds male Prairie Chickens make when looking for a mate.

That coupled with the unique Prairie Chicken mating ritual dance, makes for a interesting morning.

"They do some crazy stuff. They jump in the air, they fight, they run around. It's kind of comical," Young said.

Birdwatcher Peggy Farrell agrees. Farrell doubles as the director of the Becoming An Outdoors Woman program at the University of Wisconsin--Stevens Point. That's a non-profit organization orchestrating educational programs geared toward women involving nature.

"I love the chickens," Farrell said smiling. "They always make me laugh," she continued.

But the routine the chickens do is something few witness. That's because at one time in Wisconsin, Prairie Chickens had essentially free range of the entire state.

But with loss of habitat, today the species is mainly confined to a fairly thin sliver of Central Wisconsin.

The vast grassland of the Buena Vista Marsh in Portage County offers amble space for the chickens to live successfully. And of course with plenty of space for their annual mating ritual.

"They're trying to put on a big show to attract the females and so the more flagrant they can be, perhaps the more attention they'll get," Farrell said.

And though during the observation of the birds, at least seven males were present, their work on this day was in vain.

"I don't know where the girls are today, but evidently the boys weren't dancing well enough," Farrell said.

So they'll be back, doing their best dance to find that perfect mate.

The University of Wisconsin--Stevens Point offers viewing opportunities of the Prairie Chickens each April.

In addition the college has a collection of video and photos of these colorful birds available online here: http://www4.uwsp.edu/wildlife/pchicken/video%20clips.aspx.

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