Come and visit another world with me. There is no need for space travel. This world is here, on Tera Firma (solid earth). An adventurous friend braved rising two hours before the sun to join me in a visit to this world. Perhaps a less spectacular way of describing this place is “another neighborhood.” The reason the term another world is appropriate is that things unusual in human experience happen there. Neighborhood provides us with a clue of how near to us this world occurs.
The world is the “lek” or booming ground of the Greater Prairie Chicken. Someone with a sense of humor accurately gave this bird the Latin nomenclature of Tympanuchus cupido. Since tympani are kettle drums, the largest percussion drum in an orchestra and cupid was the mythical winged boy who was the Roman god of love; the Greater Prairie Chicken has a very suitable name.
While mammals and birds all have some form of courtship in the season of mating, it is the Greater Prairie Chicken which easily could be pronounced the most elaborate. It is certainly one of the most vocal. The “lek” or courting ground of the Greater Prairie Chicken is the everyday location for male and female prairie chickens to gather for courting. The sights and sounds of a lek are witnessed by few humans. Perhaps it is the rising before dawn, that very early time of day that must be observed to see and hear prairie chickens “booming” which prevents people from witnessing this world-class annual spring spectacle of nature. Regardless the reason, it is to me, an experience all humans should witness.
We like rational, logical reasons to support our decisions to do things. Consider these as compelling reasons to make the effort to see Tympanuchus cupido in action.
- Go to see magnificent landscape. The omnivorous Greater Prairie Chicken lives in open prairie. Few acres of native prairie remain in North America, yet there are beautiful remnants and numerous places of restored prairie. Some of these have prairie chickens. Prairie is part of the reason the world of the Greater Prairie Chicken is other worldly. Prairie is an astonishingly delightful place to witness. Few of us ever see it.
- Go to watch a grand courtship. The prairie chicken is unlike any other bird in courtship. To attract a female the males have black flag like head feathers which they raise. There is much more. While the black head feathers are raised, they inflate orange-yellow air sacs at each side of its throat. There is still more. When these air sacs are inflated, the male uses them to emit a loud booming sound from them. It can be heard up to a mile distant. Equally impressive is the stutter stepping dance that accompanies these other displays. There is one of a kind beauty for both the visual and auditory senses. Female prairie chickens watch this every morning of spring mating season. Human observers are impressed with lasting memories.
- Go to see God’s invisible hand. Watching Greater Prairie Chickens on the booming grounds or lek is an opportunity to observe the order and structure of nature. The world of the prairie chicken is a testimony to God the Creator. While the prairie chickens go about the annual ritual of courtship and mating, the rest of the prairie dwellers go about the lives they live. Birds like the Western Meadowlark, Marbled Godwit, and the Savannah Sparrow are some of the co-residents of the prairie that the Greater Prairie Chicken. Whitetail deer, even the ever-wary coyote dwell on prairies with Tympanuchus cupido. To observe this world for a few hours while the prairie chicken is courting gives witness to things in order. There is a clear sense that all things are as they should be-in place. There is peace for the human soul in this.
A hot cup of coffee after our trek was a delicious, it was a physical comfort, providing another reason to rise early for this wonder of spring. More important, there was great comfort in witnessing the hand of God providing order and structure to the world. He cares for the prairie chicken as it shares its “lek” with other prairie dwellers. As I watched, I was strongly reminded that as He cares and provides for the prairie chicken, He cares in even greater ways for you and me. We witnessed His hand at work on the prairie. It was worth the effort to arise long before the sun to watch prairie chickens live life. The words of Isaiah express my thoughts in an unambiguous way.
For the Lord is God, and he created the heavens and earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos. “I am the Lord,” he says, “and there is no other. Isaiah 45:18