Heck of a Trek

He went up to the highest point he could find and began making a lot of noise, stamping his feet, and yelling as loud as he could: “Come on over for a good time, ladies; I’m in the mood.”

Ah, the ritual of mating. Apparently not a lot of originality exists when it comes to getting it on, because out in the wild, the prairie chicken does it just like humans do.

“In the springtime, male prairie chickens go to someplace high up out on the prairie. They make a lot of noise, they stamp their feet, and they call as loud as they can. They fill up these air sacks and push out the air, and you can hear the sound from miles away. It really is an amazing natural phenomenon. And then the females come from miles away to the lek to celebrate spring, and of course that’s where courtship and mating happens,” says Dennis Figg of the Missouri Department of Conservation, explaining that a lek is a place where prairie chickens mate.

But even though the chickens are doing their procreative parts, they have found themselves on the endangered species list of Missouri’s grassland wildlife. Figg says millions of prairie chickens used to roam the state, but they are not the only wildlife that are in trouble.

“The prairie chickens are really just a mascot for all kinds of grassland wildlife in Missouri,” Figg says, “because if you start looking at all kinds of these animals (such as quail and meadowlarks), almost all of them are declining.”

But it’s not too late to help out this hilltop mating mascot. The Missouri Department of Conservation along with the Missouri Prairie Foundation, Grasslands Coalition, and others are teaming up to send out a similar (though platonic) call with the first Lek Trek.

The Lek Trek is an effort to raise public awareness about the needs of grassland wildlife in Missouri, and the effort is not for chickens. The Trek is a 565-mile walk across Missouri through the best of what is left of the state’s prairie. It began on July 21 near the Iowa border and will end October 14 at the Arkansas line.

During the 13 weeks of walking, special events take place to celebrate prairie heritage and help raise awareness about grassland issues. The Lek Trek stops at Burr Oak Woods Nature Center on Saturday, August 26. The evening’s events include craft workshops, live music by the Eagle Talon Brotherhood American Indian Dancers, and educational discussions.