The Greater Prairie Chicken
The Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) once numbered in the millions in Illinois. At first, as the Illinois prairie was converted to farmland, prairie chickens grew in numbers. But as the ratio of farmland to prairie grew more lopsided, prairie chickens declined in number, leaving a small, remnant population on two preserves in southern Illinois.
The Greater Prairie Chicken is actually a pinnated grouse. The pinnae are the long feathers seen hanging down on the side of the male’s head. Each spring, prairie chickens gather on baseball diamond-sized breeding grounds known as leks, where males display by puffing out their bright orange air sacs, raising the pinnae feathers, and making a low “booming” call that sounds like “a… woo… loo.” Females visit the lek and choose among the males based on their displays.
The birds in the photographs are mounted in a display case that is more than 110 years old. Note that this diorama also includes several chicks. Many of the taxidermy mounts in the museum’s collection are approaching a century old, making them invaluable and irreplaceable.