Spring brings out the nature lover in many people, and luckily Oklahoma is full of spring activities that get us a little closer to Mother Earth. One such opportunity is the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival presented by the Oklahoma Audubon Council. The bird-watching event will be April 17-22 in Woodward. Once hunted for sport, the lesser prairie chicken is now a rapidly vanishing bird found primarily in the sand hills and prairies of Western Oklahoma, as well as the Texas Panhandle and parts of Kansas and Colorado. The bird has seen sharp declines in population since 1800 and is a candidate for species protection under the Endangered Species Act. The bird becomes most active in the spring when males gather to court females. The lesser prairie chicken’s vulnerability, combined with its limited prairie environment, has made it a must-see for birding enthusiast and nature lovers who wish to see the bird protected. The Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival offers visitors the rare chance to see the species in its natural booming grounds as males display their courtship rituals. Special guests at the festival include award-winning Oklahoma artist and blogger Debby Kaspari and nationally revered birding author Sharon Stiteler. The festival will include various bird and nature viewing activities, workshops, conservation treks and sight seeing opportunities. Events will take place near the scenic areas of Black Kettle National Grasslands, Gloss Mountains, Alabaster Caverns and Roman Nose State Park. Different treks have been planned to include interests in birding and nature. Collisions with barbed wire fences have become a major source of mortality among the chickens, so fence marking will be an activity throughout the event. Small vinyl strips are easily placed on the fences so that they become visible to the birds. Fence marking is a fun, environmentally friendly activity that can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages. The Audubon council hopes the event raises awareness about the lesser prairie chicken. Other species are expected to be spotted during the event, including snowy plover, least tern, burrowing owl and many more. Austin Tackett is public relations coordinator, Travel and Tourism Division, state Tourism and Recreation Department.
IF YOU GOFor more information, call the Woodward Tourism Bureau at (580) 256-9990. Visitors to the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival can also go online to www.TravelOK.com for travel ideas and discounts or call (800) 652-6552 to talk to a tourism counselor.