Illinois Prairie Chickens and Grassland Birds: Past, Present and Future

Scott Simpson, Heritage Biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Division of Natural Heritage and Site Manager at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area since 1985 will present Illinois Prairie Chickens and Grassland Birds: Past, Present and Future at 7:00 PM on January 21st at the Shawnee Chapter meeting at the Carbondale Township Hall, 217 E. Main Street.

prairie chicken
In all of modern America, there is no more lost, plaintive, old-time sound than the booming of a native prairie-chicken, wrote John Madson in his tribute to tallgrass prairie, Where the Sky Began. “Booming” is the sound male prairie-chickens produce during their communal courtship display on a lek or booming ground. The males inflate their orange air sacs (tympani), erect their black neck feathers (pinnae), stomp their feet and emit the three noted booming sound, ‘who-OOM-oom.’ The sound has been likened to blowing over the mouth of an empty jug and can be heard up to a mile away. This annual ritual was nearly eliminated from the Prairie State.

Praire Ridge State Natural Area is home to the state’s only remaining greater prairie chickens, a native grouse to Illinois. Scott will focus on the story of the greater prairie chicken from its abundant presence on the former Illinois prairie landscape to the challenges of keeping this iconic prairie resident from becoming extinct in Illinois.

Prior to European settlement, the greater prairie-chicken occurred on the 21 million acres of native prairie that existed in Illinois; about 60 percent of the state’s total area. By 1940 the range of the prairie-chicken was limited to less than 2 million acres scattered across the state. The need for publicly owned refuges was stressed and two were purchased; the Green River Conservation Area in 1939 and the Iroquois County Conservation Area in 1944. Unfortunately, greater prairie-chickens disappeared form both areas by 1960.

A census of prairie-chicken flocks in a 20-county area in southern Illinois in  1959 and 1962 revealed 179 flocks containing approximately 2000 birds and ultimately led to the selection of the management areas in Jasper and Marion counties. The Prairie Chicken Foundation of Illinois was organized in 1959 and by 1961 the first sanctuary of 77 acres was acquired in Jasper County. Today, Prairie Ridge State Natural Area is a 4101-acre state natural area providing grassland and wetland habitat for 36 species of special concern, including 16 state endangered, eight state threatened, five watch list, and six area sensitive species. It is the only large grassland habitat complex in the entire Southern Till Plain Natural Division of Illinois.

The presentation will take place at the Shawnee Chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society at the Carbondale Township Hall, 217 E. Main Street. The Township Hall Parking lot is located behind the building off Monroe Street–enter through the back (green) door.

Email us for more information.

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