Mystery of the Missouri prairie chicken…why did she roam 1000 miles?

This prairie chicken hen was outfitted with a radio transmitter by Missouri Department of Conservation staff and released in northwest Missouri in late April. Photos courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation.

A female prairie chicken released in April for a restoration program has white line fever, a need to roam.

Chicken number 112 has logged 1,165 miles through Missouri and Iowa, tracked by her GPS radio collar.

“We don’t know why,” said Jennifer Vogel, a researcher at Iowa State University. “It seems like she was searching for something.”

The story was posted Thursday by Bill Graham, Missouri Department of Conservation spokesman at the Gorman Discovery Center, 4750 Troost Avenue.

The bird was among 73 prairie chickens from Nebraska released in a grasslands area that spans the Iowa and Missouri state line.

Both states are trying to restore the birds. Only about 100 are left in Missouri because so few of its grasslands remain.

Bird 112 took off to the north in Iowa, dropped south to Missouri and then looped back into Iowa. She visited the St. Joseph area, went east past Kirksville in the north central part of the state and then to Iowa past the bridges of Madison County southwest of Des Moines.

No romance developed there.

Then she went back to St. Joseph and to Trenton, Mo., and through northwest Missouri back to Iowa again. As of last week, she was feeding and nesting near Kent, Iowa.

“It’s neat she’s capable of traveling that far, but we hope all the hens don’t do that or we won’t get any reproduction,” said Len Gilmore, an MDC biologist.

Her travels, existential or otherwise, have scientists wondering if some prairie chickens have always gone such distances, maybe to increase genetic diversity. Or maybe she is looking for someplace like her old Nebraska home.

Or maybe she wants to find some place where folks will take that collar off her neck.


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