As dawn crept across the prairie, three amazing birds gathered in an open field to battle
each other and establish territory. These males fought not only for territory - but for the attention of females. Late winter and early spring are critical for the procreation of this iconic species, the Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido). The males fought, displayed, and boomed - announcing their presence to females in the area.
But in Missouri this may be one of the last times we witness this ritual dance. The Greater Prairie Chicken once roamed by the millions across most of the Midwestern United States and Canada. Today in Missouri, despite years of conservation efforts, slightly more than 100 of these birds remain.
The issues facing the Greater Prairie Chicken and other members of the Grassland Grouse species, are many and varied. The most commonly cited concern is habitat loss. As the human population increases and the needs of human survival increase, demands and pressures on the land also increase. The loss of habitat is the number one cause of most species extinctions.
For many of Earth’s creatures, time is running out. Half of the world’s plant and animal species will soon be threatened with extinction. The goal of the Photo Ark is to document biodiversity, show what’s at stake and to get people to care while there’s still time. Over 6,000 species have been photographed to date, with more to come.
During our field trip we saw only three male Prairie Chickens and no females. The fifty humans observing the ritual on the Lek far outnumbered the birds performing this life-and-death survival dance.
I, for one, do not want the "Booming Grounds" to be silenced. My sincerest wish is for this species to continue to survive and thrive in Missouri. The loss of their sight, sound, and dances in Missouri would impoverish us all.
When the Greater Prairie Chicken disappears from Missouri there will still be opportunities to see them in other locations, such as Kansas where it appears to be doing as well as expected, but the loss will be profound. Losing one insect species can lead to the loss of a species of fish. The loss of a fish can lead to the loss of an amphibian. The loss of an amphibian can lead to the loss of a bird. The loss of that bird can lead to the loss of other species, including mammals. Eventually, what will become of the species at the top - the species responsible for this unconscionable destruction? What will be left?