Not your garden variety barnyard chickens

Sandhill Cranes are not the only springtime wildlife extravaganza in Nebraska.

In addition to the mystical, big gray birds plus countless species of ducks, geese and shore birds migrating through the Platte River and surrounding wetlands in millions annually is the breeding ritual of an equally fascinating, though more hidden and intimate year-round resident.

Prairie chickens, members of the grouse family, gather on leks at sunrise, dancing and drumming and calling in frenetic mating behavior and it’s being performed every day in western Nebraska. Males can number a few to dozens on a single lek, however biologists have learned only one bird – two at most – will successfully breed all the hens. The show plays out in privacy on remote Nebraska grasslands where – unlike clouds of cranes covering the sky, river and fields – no one save those fortunate few in photo blinds ever sees or appreciate their spectacle.

These photos were taken in the first light of day on Friday, April 12 on a lek in Frontier County. This one, like all leks unless humans displace them, reliably attracts birds year after year, decade upon decade to the exact same spot. Only then and there does their ultra-camouflage blur of brown-on-brown give way to spectacular color and animated courting antics.

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