Male lesser prairie-chickens, members of the grouse family, perform a unique mating dance each spring. They gather in groups year after year on the same spots called leks, to attract hens by stomping their feet rapidly and inflating and deflating air sacs on the sides of their necks. This produces a sound called booming which can carry for a considerable distance on the open prairie and accounts for the alternate name, “booming ground” for the lek.
The males often square off and fight as part of this ancient mating ritual. The warm color in this image is due to the early morning light.
Unfortunately, the population of these interesting birds has been declining for a number of years and they are nearing endangered status. Due to their habitat requirements, they only inhabit a relatively small area comprised of northwest Oklahoma, southwest Kansas, southeast Colorado, northeast New Mexico, and the northeast Texas Panhandle. They need large areas of shortgrass prairie where there are no tall trees or tall structures which they perceive as perching places for raptors, their primary natural predators. Their habitat has become fragmented by the tilling of rangeland for farming and it is believed that the recent construction of wind farms and transmission lines also plays a role in this habitat loss.
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The lesser prairie chicken is on the verge or being placed on the endangered species list. This member of the grouse family has always had a limited range and that range is becoming more limited due to fragmentation of habitat made worse recently by the establishment of large wind farms in northwest Oklahoma. I have photographed them the last two springs during their booming season which is the time when males gather on breeding grounds called leks to do an amazing courtship ritual to impress the hens. These were photographed from a blind on a lek in Harper County, Oklahoma.