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The future of Prairie Chickens in Iowa

talk of iowa prairie chickens
talk of iow

“If they don't survive, that's a sad statement about our society…they've been a part of this land for thousands and thousands of years. And if what we've done, in the way we've taken care of the land, doesn't allow them to coexist with us, that's on us.” — Jim Pease

When European settlers first arrived in Iowa and the Great Plains, the Greater Prairie Chicken was everywhere. In fact, unlike almost every other wild creature, the Prairie Chicken population increased during the early years of the settlement movement. They thrived in the mix of native prairie and newly plowed farm fields. But after a few decades, in 1904 American zoologist William Temple Hornaday wrote, “To-day the Prairie Chicken is to be numbered with the buffalo and the passenger pigeon. It is useless to describe this bird. The chances are that no reader of this book will ever see one outside of a museum.”

Fortunately, Hornaday was wrong, but Prairie Chickens have disappeared from most of their original range, and today birdwatchers travel great distances to see their remarkable mating display. Despite conservation efforts, there are fewer than 100 prairie chickens living in Iowa.

Every spring for thousands of years, male prairie chickens have been getting up at dawn to perform their complex mating dance. Host Charity Nebbe and wildlife biologist Jim Pease arrived at the Kellerton Grasslands Bird Conservation Area in Ringgold County just before sunset to see the Prairie Chicken perform the unique mating dance and discuss what makes the bird so special. Then Chad Paup, a biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, discusses conservation efforts to help the species survive in Iowa.


  • Jim Pease, wildlife biologist, Iowa State University emeritus professor of Natural Resource Ecology and Management
  • Chad Paup, a wildlife management biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
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Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Caitlin Troutman is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio