Prairie chicken dance seen as tourism draw

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

McCOOK, Nebraska -- Prairie chickens evidently do their spring mating dance on a regular schedule -- a schedule so unfailing that tourism coordinators can market the event and entice new and experienced bird watchers.

Carol Schlegel, tourism director of Red Willow County's Visitors Committee, told county commissioners during their weekly meeting Monday that bird watching is an exciting, growing tourism opportunity, and that starting in April 2013, the visitors committee, in conjunction with the Southwest Nebraska RC&D (Resource Conservation and Development), will offer weekend experiences to view the mating dance of the greater prairie chicken.

"This is definitely something we have in this area, and people want to see it," Schlegel said. "We believe it's marketable. We tell people about it, and they just ask, 'When?' and 'Where?'."

The greater prairie chicken does its mating dance from mid-March through mid-May, Schlegel said, "and you can depend on the birds to show up. We can market this."

Bird watchers will "arrive before sunrise, and they can't leave until the birds are done," she said.

A grant may be received to help pay for viewing boxes (blinds), she said. The experience will include "the do's and don'ts" of general bird watching and photography tips. And instructions "not to get in the way of what the prairie chickens do," Schlegel said.

Commission chairman Earl McNutt said, with a grin on his face, "You know, we can sit here and chuckle about this, but bird watching is huge."

Commissioner Steve Downer suggested that organizers capitalize on the fact that prairie chicken mating coincides with "the tail end" of crane watching experiences in mid-Nebraska.

The chicken viewing experiences will be scheduled each of four weekends in April, and will include additional activities to keep people in McCook, such as McCook Community College and McCook Community Concert Series events, and promotion of the community's Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival.

Schlegel said she is trying to come up with "some catchy name," and is encouraging appropriate suggestions. "It's a balancing act," she cautioned. "It has to be interesting to the inexperienced bird watcher, without being offensive to the serious birder."

Contact Schlegel, (308) 345-1200, extension 318, or the Gazette, (308) 345-4500, extension 113, with suggestions.

A YouTube video of prairie chickens doing a mating dance near McCook is available here.

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