Our favorite bird may soon be extinct.
Signs have been apparent for several years, but news stories have confirmed it, much to our disgust. Fascination of prairie chickens for us goes back before we could even carry a real gun hunting. We were up with Dad and Uncle Don in milo stalk fields before light, armed with our play rifle, waiting for the ‘chickens to fly in for feed.
That’s the traditional method of hunting the big birds in the Flint Hills, “Prairie Chicken Capital of the World.” Season was two days, the weekend preceding pheasant and quail seasons. Hunters would come hundreds of miles to shoot at the chickens flying in morning and night from pasture roosts. Bag limit was two, but few were successful.
After using our BB gun a couple of years, Dad gave us his single shot 410 shotgun that used 2 ½-inch shells. We remember our first chicken kill as if it were yesterday. Unlike most chicken hunters, we also hunted pastures with dogs, so we were able to get some closer shots than those only aiming at the flyovers.
Three of our pastures used to have nice flocks of chickens, but we’ve seen few in recent years. What was the “best prairie chicken pasture” in the county is near our place, and likewise not many soar from there. Three decades ago, mornings on our way to work, a big flock would wing over the highway at the same time we’d go by; no more.
Problem is civilization, according to biologists studying the decline. Prairie chickens require open prairie and tall grass to nest. Annual pasture burning, close grazing, invasive trees and people are factors in reduced chicken counts.
Prairie chickens require prairie and privacy. They are shy and won’t nest by or come near man-made structures. Formerly, 80,000 chickens were bagged annually in Kansas, but surveys indicate only 6,000 were shot statewide last year.
For prairie chickens to survive, we must provide environment they demand. And, we are doing our small part. Wildlife agencies provide funding for improving habitat, and we have a ten-year contract in effect to destroy pasture trees and brush, not overgraze so adequate cover remains, and schedule burnings that do not interfere with nesting.
Hopefully, our favorite birds will again thrive in that locale. As importantly, we encourage all landowners to follow suit. Future generations of prairie chickens, bird watchers, nature lovers and hunters depend on our action now.
It is in God’s plan that prairie chickens should thrive as recorded in Genesis 1:22:“God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
Directions came in Deuteronomy 22:6: “If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest along the way, on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young.”