Greater Prairie Chicken Excitement!

Greater Prairie Chicken near Elk Chapel Road, Decatur County Iowa.  February 15, 2024. 5:24 pm.

A male Greater Prairie Chicken has taken up residence on the edge of a cornfield about 30-40 feet from a county highway, much to the delight of bird watchers. I got a call from a friend, so I grabbed my camera gear and drove out to the location.  This image (above) was taken with the sun low in the west so this prairie chicken has wonderful, warm backlighting. Compare this light to the next photo.

Greater Prairie Chicken near Elk Chapel Road. February 18, 2024. 8:44 am.

This prairie chicken was photographed with “neutral” (true colors) front lighting.  It was long enough after sunrise that you don’t have the wonderful, “warm” colors you get right after sunrise and right before sunset.

Greater Prairie Chickens at 400+ yards. Kellerton Grasslands Bird Conservation Area. March 31, 2020. 6:39 am.

These birds are rare in southern Iowa, and the best place to see them is a bird conservation area west of Kellerton Iowa (see the link below). The prairie chickens do courtship displays and mate in the spring. The peak of activity is usually mid-March to early April. There is an observation deck but the mating area when I was there was more than 400 yards away from the deck. You are not allowed to leave the observation deck and approach the birds. When word got out that you could photograph a prairie chicken from 40 feet away instead of 400 yards, that caused a lot of excitement among local bird watchers and photographers.

Greater Prairie Chicken, February 18, 2024. 8:42 am.

To get nice portraits at 30-40 feet, most photographers I saw were are using 300-400mm lenses, and maybe longer. I am using a 100-400mm zoom lens for all of these photos except the iPhone photos.

Greater Prairie Chicken. iPhone photo. February 18, 2024. 8:47 am. iPhone photo. Click the image to see a larger version.

To give you a sense of the size and distance perspective, this image was taken with my iPhone from my car.  He walks back and forth along the edge of this corn field and does his courtship display, stomping the ground with his feet and puffing out his neck. So far, I have not seen any females.

Greater Prairie Chicken at sunset. iPhone photo. February 15, 2024. 5:47 pm.

He is the dark shape on the edge of the field toward the center of the photo. He was around for a few minutes after sunset before flying away.

Greater Prairie Chicken, Elk chapel Road, northwest of Lamoni Iowa. February 18, 2024. 5:38 pm

I came back for another photo shoot in the warm light before sunset.

Greater Prairie Chicken. The view from my car. iPhone photo. February 18, 2024. 5:39 pm.

Your car makes a handy photographic blind for all kinds of animals not too far from a road or parking lot. See the link below.

Adobe Bridge screen capture, prairie chicken photos, February 18, 2024. 5:38-5:39 pm. Click to see a larger version.

In this screen capture from Adobe Bridge there are two version of each photo, a RAW file and a JPEG file.

I took a lot of photos in a short period of time. With a very active animal sometimes the camera’s autofocus can be a bit off, even if you are using predictive autofocus with a quality camera. Taking more photos insures more sharp photos. More photos also gives you compositional options. Only the central autofocus sensor was turned on because it is the most sensitive. Most of the time I had it on the bird’s eye. That puts the birds head in the center of the frame, which does not make for the best composition. So I crop the image later for a more pleasing composition.

Posted February 18, 2024. Updated February 29, 2024.


More Greater Prairie Chicken Excitement!  – the sequel to this article

Prairie Chickens at 400 Yards

California Ground Squirrel: How to Use Your Car as a Blind

Kellerton Grasslands Bird Conservation Area  – downloadable PDF, Iowa DNR