SALINA, Kan. — Kansas is helping out its neighbors by letting Missouri have some of its greater prairie chickens.
Missouri has only a few hundred of the rare birds, while Kansas has a springtime population of 25,000 to 40,000. Missouri conservation officials are allowed to trap about 100 of the Kansas birds per year, 50 cocks and 50 hens.
Max Alleger led a team of state conservationists for several days in Kansas over the past month trapping the birds.
"Our overall goal is to re-establish a stable population of 300 birds there," Alleger said.
The team locates prairie chicken booming grounds, where males gather during the summer mating season to attract females. The males' booming sound can travel more than a mile.
Alleger said the team drove through prairie that stretched from the Smoky Hill Air National Guard Range up to Tescott, stopping periodically to listen for the birds. Then team members looked up the landowner and sought permission to go onto the land to trap the prairie chickens.
"They have welcomed us with open arms," he said.
Trapped males are taken to Missouri and released. Females are fitted with radio transmitters and picked up with their chicks in July to be shipped to Missouri.
Alleger said the prairie chicken population appeared healthy.
"We were finding as many or more birds as we had last year," he said.
Two species of prairie chicken — the lesser and the greater — are found in Kansas. The lesser prairie chicken is found almost exclusively in southwest Kansas (and into Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico), while the greater prairie chicken is found in the Flint Hills of Kansas and in more eastern states.
The birds have declined in population over the last century as native grasses are turned into farmland and with the growth of power transmission lines. The birds are particular about where they roam, roost and breed, affecting their ability to reproduce and raise viable flocks.