Window on Wildlife

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Greater prairie chickens in Minnesota

Our Window on Wildlife (WOW) features a live view of a greater prairie chicken lek on the Bluestem Prairie Scientific and Natural Area near Glyndon in northwestern Minnesota, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy.

The best viewing time is in the morning when the birds are most active. Birds arrive in the pre-dawn hour and some activity may occur through 9 a.m. Birds also may appear in the evening after 6 p.m.

Move the red dot backward or click on the red slider to view footage from the last 12 hours. Sound is an integral part of the viewing experience but can be muted. No activity? Watch our clips.

Greater prairie chickens

Best known for the males' booming calls and springtime courtship antics, the greater prairie chicken once flourished on the plains of Minnesota.

A male prairie chickenMales have distinct, yellow eyebrows and brightly colored air sacs on their throats. Both males and females have bold brown and white striped feathers. The "greater" in their name distinguishes them from the slightly smaller and lighter colored lesser prairie chicken.

During courtship, males leap, flap, drum their feet, strut and make a low-frequency booming vocalization to attract females.

A female prairie chickenWhen a female arrives at a lek, she displays to a potential mate by dropping her wings and squatting. Mating occurs on the lek, after which hens leave to nest. A hen builds her nest in thick vegetation, creating a depression in the substrate and lining it with dried vegetation and feathers.

A female lays an average clutch of 12 eggs starting about four days after mating. A female incubates, broods and rears the young without assistance from the male.

Male prairie chickens sparring

Habitat and population

Prairie chicken range in MinnesotaHabitat needs change with the seasons.

  • During the spring breeding season, open expanses of short cover are used for courtship activity while dense, undisturbed cover approximately 12-15 inches high is used for nesting. Cropland and burned habitats are used for feeding and loafing.
  • During the summer, the greater prairie-chicken favors open habitats, including native prairie and grasslands that have been disturbed by burning, grazing, or haying.
  • Come fall and winter, croplands, grass and forb habitats and disturbed areas that provide winter food are most important. Low areas with dense vegetation are preferred for roosting cover year-round and snow is used for burrowing when available.

Lack of appropriate habitat is the greatest threat to Minnesota's prairie chickens. Large, nearly treeless landscapes are needed.

In Minnesota, the greater prairie chicken uses a mixture of native prairie, non-native grasslands and disturbed habitats. Where these occur in the right proportions and configuration, populations are stable and – in recent years – even expanding.

Ring-necked pheasants, a popular upland game bird but a species not native to North America, are known nest parasites of the greater prairie chicken. They disrupt booming grounds and feeding areas.

Click the play button to watch a collection of action-filled clips from the Window On Wildlife webcam. Clips will play automatically. Clicking the YouTube playlist icon on the far right displays a list of available clips and allows you to select what to watch. Sound is integral to the viewing experience so clips are not muted but can be.

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