Spring migration is about at its peak, so naturally on Saturday I was out birding even though the weather was less than perfect. After venturing to central Nebraska on Arbor Day, I decided to head south to Gage County to see if I could pick up a few county birds. After birding Diamond Lake Wildlife Management Area, I decided to start working my way back east by driving county roads along the Kansas-Nebraska border. My hope was to snag a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, but I also thought maybe I would find a few Greater Prairie-Chickens since there was a fair amount of grassland and pasture in the area. As I was driving down a county road southeast of the town of Odell, I did notice a Greater Prairie-Chicken along the road and it was a new county bird. I braked and put my vehicle in reverse. To my surprise, the prairie-chicken did not flush. It stayed along the road right next to my vehicle. This was a great opportunity to get some photos so I started taking shots.
After a few minutes of capturing dozens of photos, including some of the bird displaying, it became apparent this poor guy was confused. Like other gallinaceous birds whose hormones are raging, they seem to become fearless and think anything that moves is a rival male. I eventually decided to open my car door to see if that would faze him.
The bird remained unconcerned. I eventually slinked out of my vehicle. I put the hood of my sweatshirt over my head to conceal my human form just to be cautious. Still little, if any, reaction and he continued displaying around my vehicle.
After a few minutes it was clear nothing was going to phase this Prairie-Chicken and eventually we were standing side-by-side. I could have caught him with my bare hands if I had wanted.
Even though this was an atypical encounter, it was a wonderful opportunity to see this species up close, both the bird and its behaviors. At one point, he became nervous and skulked off and hunkered down onto the ground and made some very soft cooing sounds. I assumed the only thing that would cause this response was a (real) predator. Sure enough, after several seconds of searching I spotted a Cooper’s Hawk flying over. I was impressed how adept he was at spotting a distant raptor despite being distracted by an over-sized bi-pedal rival. Needless to say, I did capture some photos and some are below.
There was a lek with 3-5 birds in the cornfield just south of where this roadside incident occurred. I’m not sure why this bird wandered off of it and was drawn to the roadside. Perhaps he was lured by the occasional passing vehicle which he mistook for another Prairie-Chicken. Regardless, it was one of the more interesting avian encounters I have had in recent memory.