In the coming weeks, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will begin multiple surveys for lesser prairie chickens in an effort to gather more accurate population data.
Wildlife Department biologists and Oklahoma City Zoo personnel will conduct listening surveys from county roads in Cimarron, Texas, Beaver, and Harper counties.
Biologists will listen for the bird's distinctive call at preset listening locations along the roadway.
Also starting soon and continuing until May, Wildlife Department contractors will use helicopters for aerial surveys throughout the lesser prairie chicken range to locate additional groups of birds as they gather on breeding grounds.
The aerial survey will complement the “listening” survey by identifying birds that can't be seen or heard from the roadways.
This is the second year that these range-wide aerial surveys will be conducted in Oklahoma and across the lesser prairie chicken's range.
“The surveyors will be flying a grid pattern across the counties, but they will use common sense when flying near homes or livestock. I know whenever you have a low-flying helicopter around cattle, people will be concerned.
If cattle are seen, the protocol is to go up or around,” said Doug Schoeling, upland game biologist for the Wildlife Department.
The lesser prairie chicken is a unique upland bird that has experienced sharp population declines.
“The more birds that are located on these surveys, the more we can understand population status, which could help prevent the listing of the lesser prairie chicken on the endangered species list,” Schoeling said.