The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Prairie chicken protection needed


September 29, 2012

Far be it for me to offer political advice, but were I a state Senate candidate I would lay off the prairie chicken.

You don't want to mess with lesser prairie chicken, folks.

Aubrey Dunn is running for Senate in District 39. He may have stubbed his toe when he criticized state government for spending thousands of bucks protecting the lesser prairie chicken while education goes begging.

Aubrey says drive between Roswell and Tatum and you will see white flags on top of the fence. "These flags are for prairie chickens to make sure they don't hit the top wire of the fence and injure themselves," he says, indicating the state has better things to do than finance the health and welfare of prairie chickens.

Mistake, Aubrey. I've been there. In the '90s this column ridiculed the New Mexico government-funded project to count the lesser prairie chicken population.

I said if any chickens turned up missing they could call America's Most Wanted. I said we've seemed to survive the extinction of dinosaurs, so what if God has decided it is time for this bird to say bye-bye? I said how comes no one worries about my favorite, the lesser koodoo?

Then I said I'm sorry.

The lesser prairie chicken crowd went to great pains to educate me about this marvelous creature, and I would like to share those thoughts.

None less than Sunset Magazine chronicles the lesser prairie chicken thusly: "The lesser prairie chicken is adorable, with patterned feathers that would earn raves on Project Runway."

Sunset Magazine writers sometime get mired in excessive gush, but still.

I could tell you the official name for the lesser prairie chicken is the Tympanuchus palliciantus, but that would spoil all the fun.

Perhaps one of the most endearing facets of the lesser prairie chicken is its colorful mating ritual.

Driving the excruciatingly boring Plains you think you are gazing at endless land but you might indeed be staring straight into a love nest. These are called leks, areas where lesser prairie chickens go to hook up, an early dawn ritual.

What happens is a couple of the female LPCs will strut across the lek (think Miss America Contest but no baton twirlers) and the male LPC will show his stuff. Here's how he does that:

The fellow bends forward, raising his tall feathers. Then he inflates the sac along his throat. As if that were not enough to reduce his intended mate to swoons, he seals the deal with great booming calls, ooo-loo-loo, ohn-loo-loo, ooo-loo-ooo.

By now you would figure the female lesser prairie chicken is reduced to a quivering mass of feathers, but the cocky one is not done. While ooo-loo-loooing he rapidly stomps the ground.

Certainly this would separate any girl from her better judgment.

Unfortunately, the lesser prairie chicken world is embroiled in current politics. The U.S. Department of Interior has proposed establishment of a lesser prairie chicken reserve but, alas, it has turned out to be a controversial issue.

President Obama has failed to take a position on the lesser prairie chicken. Should the subject be broached at the presidential debates next month, I suspect Mitt Romney will decide a useless 47 per cent of lesser prairie chicken population seeks a government –protected reserve so they can sit around and wait for someone else to lay the eggs.

If anyone out there is still poking fun at the lesser prairie chicken — and I would certainly hope not — be aware there is a very serious lesser prairie chicken festival each April in Milnesand.

People from all over the world, even faraway weird places like New Jersey, come to learn about the chickens and take pictures of the mating ritual.

How fun!

Contact NedCantwell at:

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