The annual Prairie Chicken Festival is underway today in central Iowa at the Kellerton Grasslands Bird Conservation area near Des Moines. The festival begins before dawn and puts the mating behavior of the prairie chicken on display.
Pat Schlarbaum, a wildlife diversity technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says patrons can expect quite a show. “They’re stamping their feet, they’re spinning, they’re leaping, basically doing everything they can to get the female’s attention,” he says.
The second part of the free festival moves to Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, where the Yankton Nation of Greenwood, South Dakota — a Native American group — will present its version of the Prairie Chicken Dance.
Schlarbaum says prairie chickens were once all but gone from Iowa’s prairies but they’ve been brought back. “We have been actively relocating prairie chickens from Kansas to Iowa because they were extirpated or they were lost to the Iowa landscape back in the 1950s.” Schlarbaum says he and his team work to protect populations of animals, like prairie chickens, which he calls a “keystone species” of the grasslands.