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Prairie chicken blind available next month at Hamden Slough

A pair of male prairie chickens strut their stuff during last spring’s mating season. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

A prairie chicken viewing blind is available to the public on Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge. From the blind, observers can see the spectacular annual mating ritual of the Greater Prairie Chicken, in an activity known as “booming”.

This primitive ceremony pits bird against bird as male chickens stake out territory to attract hens for mating. The most dominate and aggressive males will hold the center of the “booming ground”, which is called a lek. Younger males on the edge of the lek will challenge the older males. Males confront each other aggressively, jumping high in the air and striking each other with feet, wings, and bill in ritualistic fighting.

Prairie chickens have a distinctive pinnae or long feathers on each side of their neck. While on the booming ground, the males raise these feathers exposing bright yellow air sacs along the neck. The air sacs expand while making their distinctive low booming sounds.

The blind is located 10 miles northwest of Detroit Lakes and can seat four adults. The public may make a reservation for use of the blind by calling the Wetland Management District office at 218-847-4431. Reservations are required, but are no cost to the public. A confirmation letter, information package and map will be sent after reservations are made. The best time for viewing the booming ground activity is during the month of April.

Wetland Manager Ryan Frohling believes the public will have a very high quality wildlife experience. A do’s and don’ts list will be sent in the information package. The list includes entering the blind 55 minutes before sunrise. Observers may leave the blind only after the prairie chickens have left for the morning, which is at approximately 8:30 a.m.

This is the first prairie chicken lek to develop on Hamden Slough Refuge and is the nearest booming ground to Detroit Lakes. The lek developed on the refuge in 2003, with 17 adults performing their mating ritual. In 2010, at the peak of the mating season, 43 prairie chickens were observed on the lek.

Prairie chickens once numbered in the millions but their population rapidly dwindled with the loss of prairie habitat. The species has been reintroduced into southwest Minnesota and Iowa, but nesting populations are not yet well established. Frohling noted that the prairie chicken scientific name Tympanuchus cupido means “drummer of love” and was inspired by the sound of prairie chicken feet dancing rapidly on the booming ground.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the National Wildlife Refuge System that includes more than 540 refuges nationwide. Within Becker County, the Service is represented by the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge, and the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District. Becker County enjoys an impressive diversity of both plants and wildlife as a result of its location where the eastern deciduous forest meets the prairie. Plan a visit to experience Tamarac, Hamden Slough, or one of the many Waterfowl Production Areas and enjoy your public lands.