Prairie-Chicken History In Iowa
Greater Prairie-Chickens were once Iowa’s most abundant game bird. They were a very important food source for both Native Americans and early settlers. Prairie-Chicken numbers began to decline in the late 1800’s because of market hunting and habitat loss. The Iowa legislature restricted hunting in 1878 and closed the season in 1915. However, because of the continued conversion of tallgrass prairie to row crops the prairie-chicken was extirpated from Iowa in the 1950’s. The last known nesting sites were located in Appanoose, Wayne, and Ringgold counties. The last verified nesting occurred in 1952 in Appanoose County.
In the early 1980’s the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), made an unsuccessful attempt to reintroduce prairie-chickens to the Loess Hills by releasing one hundred birds near Onawa in Monona County. A second attempt was made in 1987 with the release site being changed to the Ringgold Wildlife Area located near the Missouri border in south central Iowa. This area was one of the last to have prairie chickens in Iowa and was thought to have some of the best potential habitat for a successful reintroduction. From 1987-1989 247 birds were released. Another 295 birds were trapped and released in Ringgold and Adair Counties from 1992-1994. These stockings have proven to be successful and Iowa once again has a naturally reproducing prairie chicken population.
Kellerton Bird Conservation Area
The Kellerton Bird Conservation Area was created in 1999 in joint effort by the Iowa DNR, Pheasants Forever and Partners in Flight. The goal of this project is to provide a publicly owned high quality core grassland area which is surrounded by privately owned and managed grasslands. As of 2003, the DNR portion of the Kellerton area consists of 1060 acres of land that is in the process of being restored to tallgrass prairie. The area also has a handicapped accessible viewing platform from which to observe the birds. It is possible to see chickens on a nice morning from October through May. The best time to view them, however, is within an hour of sunrise or sunset during their mating season from late March to early May. A commercial spotting scope is available at the viewing platform during this time in order to allow a closer look without disturbing the birds.
This first in the nation grassland bird conservation area not only boasts the largest prairie chicken booming ground in Iowa but is home for many other grassland bird species as well. Some species of note that have been observed here are the Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawk), Henslow's Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, and Short-eared Owl.
Since little of the original prairie landscape remains in Iowa, the Kellerton BCA land is being converted back to the diverse grassland habitat that the prairie chickens prefer. Some of the management practices include: planting native grasses and forbs, tree removal, burning, and light farming. Native grasses and forbs are being planted to return prairie to the area. These grasslands are being managed with fire as well as light grazing and mowing to create height diversity in the grasses that the chickens prefer. Planting crops also gives the birds a winter food source and helps prepare the ground for native grass and forb planting.
Kellerton Bird Conservation Area which is located two miles west of Kellerton, Iowa on Hwy. 2 then about 1 1/2 miles south on 300th Ave. to the Prairie-Chicken viewing platform.
Attendees will need to dress appropriately for the weather conditions as it is an open grassland and there is not much protection from the elements. The prairie-chickens will be about 200 yards from the viewing stand so you should bring your own binoculars or spotting scopes if you have them. There is one commercial scope available for those who do not have one. We will try to have a few extras but they will be limited. Those planning to stay and help plant plugs should wear clothes to get dirty and bring a watering can if they have one available. The surrounding wildlife areas also offer some very good birding and wildlife viewing opportunities so you may want to plan for a weekend event in southern Iowa.
6:00 a.m. - ? Prairie-Chicken viewing will take place from dawn until the chickens leave the booming grounds. The viewing platform is located two miles west of Kellerton IA on Hwy 2 and 1 mile south on 300th Ave. DNR personnel will be on hand to answer your questions. A commercial spotting scope and a limited number of binoculars will be available for your use but it is recommended that you bring your own binoculars or spotting scope if possible as the birds will be about 200 yards away.
Coffee and donuts will be available at the viewing stand.
Contact Info: Micah Lee (641-464-2389)