Pride of the Prairie

The Ft. Pierre National Grasslands can be an eerie and unusual place, especially before sunrise.  Before exiting the pickup, I could hear the intensity of the sounds reverberating from the vast expanses all around me. 

Walking into the darkness with the sounds of the prairie coming to life is almost overwhelming.  After walking about 50 yards, one sounds began to drown out the others.  The sound is very distinct, and one I have never heard in the wild…the mating call of the Greater Prairie Chicken. 

Male Prairie Chicken - Courtesy South Dakota Tourism

Male Prairie Chicken - Courtesy South Dakota Tourism

I entered the plywood blind relatively unnoticed.  If the birds had realized that I was in the area, they obviously didn’t care.  The sound was even more intense than before, and something I can’t describe.  To hear the sounds, and to see the chickens dance, view the Prairie Chicken video in the “Tourism Videos” section on the right.

 When the sun began to rise over the stretch of prairie to the east, I could finally visualize what I had been listening to for over an hour.  The males were displaying their colors, and dancing around the females, who seemed uninterested.  An occasional confrontation between two males would result in acrobatics and scrapping to establish dominance.  A display that is too amazing not to experience in person.

fighting from a distance

fighting from a distance

face off - Courtesy South Dakota Toursim

face off - Courtesy South Dakota Tourism

I know I’ve done little to describe the beauty of this yearly ritual, but no words I could write would do it justice.   This extraordinary bird is part of a delicate ecosystem in the prairie of South Dakota.  Each spring brings new opportunities to experience and view wildlife in all its splender.  I will continue to make this a ritual of mine for years and years to come. 

The Ft. Pierre National Grasslands encompases 116,000 acres and is located 15 miles south of Ft. Pierre, S.D.  The blinds are available from April through mid-May and  may be reserved through the forest service by calling the Ft. Pierre national Grassland, USDA Forest Service at 605-224-5517.

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