A Lesser Prairie-Chicken’s Year: Spring

Male lesser prairie-chickens sparring on the lek. Nick Richter photo.

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Springtime on the prairie—booming on the leks

It’s before dawn on the lek, where male lesser prairie-chickens gather to compete with one another through dramatic displays, and where females scout for mates. The first hints of red and gold etch the dark morning sky as males begin to arrive from surrounding grasslands.

Older, dominant males stake out prime display sites in the middle of the lek, while younger males assume positions around the perimeter. As they display, the males drop their wings, stamp their feet, gobble, and cluck. They erect long feathers (pinnae) behind their heads and inflate red air sacs on their necks, making a bubbling sound, also called “booming,” which is why leks are also known as booming grounds or gobbling grounds. They face off with other males, cackling, flutter-jumping, lunging at one another, and sparring.

Females arrive to survey the males, often visiting two or three leks before settling on a mate. After mating, the hens choose nest sites, usually within a mile of the lek. The egg-laying process takes place over the next few weeks. Once the female has laid 11-14 eggs, she will start to incubate them.

While the males’ lekking behavior may begin in February, it peaks in late March and April. Egg laying takes about two weeks, and incubation another 25 days. Hatching peaks in late May through mid-June throughout the range.

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