Gathering at ancient breeding grounds each spring, the males passionately spar for dominance and mating rights. By stomping the ground, erecting pinnae feathers, flutter jumping, and sounding their trademark booming call, they connect age to age on the sweeping prairie.”
—Sarah Sortum, ecotourism manager, Calamus Outfitters
Private guides will make sure you’re in the front seat for the dancing display of this prairie icon. Bundle up, March and April in a bird blind can be chilly—but it’s worth it!
Year after year, birds gather on a lek (an area of patted-down grass) to perform mating dances. Once able to roam endless stretches of grassland, corridors between populations are dwindling, reducing populations in many areas. Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota have the largest populations of chickens.
Chicken Dance Trail
701 4th Avenue
Holdrege, NE 68949
The Chicken Dance Trail provides opportunities to see not just prairie chickens, but a multitude of other bird species in south central and southwestern Nebraska. The Chicken Dance Trail is not a physical location, but a website full of insider information about canyons, reservoirs, and creeks where you’re sure to spot the birds on your bucket list—as well as rural communities to explore along the way. The Chicken Dance Trail organizes the information into five birdwatching trails that travelers can take independently, at their own pace.
Burwell, NE 68823
Calamus Outfitters is a family-owned business providing outdoor recreational activities for diverse kinds of tourists: from hunters, to serious birdwatchers to families who want to float down the river or lounge at the nearby Calamus Reservoir. The operation is located in the north central Nebraska Sandhills, near Burwell, right along the Calamus Reservoir, a prominent regional tourist attraction. Calamus Outfitters is located on the Switzer Ranch, a fourth generation cattle operation. Activities include hunting, river trips, bird watching, safari jeep tours, ranch tours, specialty events, specialty meals. Home to the annual Nebraska Prairie Chicken Festival.
Sandhills Motel & Glidden Canoe Rental
1 (888) 278-6167
507 SW 1st St.
Mullen, NE 69152
Nestled in the Nebraska Sandhills, the Sandhills Motel and Glidden Canoe Rental lays at the western edge of Mullen, the only town in Hooker County. Mitch Glidden was one of the first in the state to offer guided viewing opportunities of Prairie Chicken and Sharptail Grouse in Nebraska. He works with area landowners to bring visitors to viewing blinds in key locations, booking groups of up to 16 people for viewings that last from two to four hours.
Prairie Chicken Dance Tours
402 Norris Avenue, Room 318
McCook, NE 69001
Prairie Chicken Dance Tours is a joint effort between McCook / Red Willow County Tourism and the Southwest Nebraska Resource Conservation and Development District (SWNRCD) with the support of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Nebraska Tourism Commission. Their mission is to offer the opportunity to view this natural phenomena to novice and experienced bird watchers and, in doing so, increase the appreciation for the unique creatures that we share this part of the world with.
Activities: Prairie chicken viewing in blinds
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Reserve
39983 Refuge Road
Valentine, NE 69201
In 1912, President Theodore Roosevelt signed an Executive Order establishing Fort Niobrara as a “preserve and breeding ground for native birds.” Later that year, the Refuge’s purpose was expanded to include the conservation of bison and elk herds representative of those that once roamed the Great Plains. Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is 19,131 acres in size and features a trail system, boardwalks, observation decks, hunting and photography blinds, fishing piers and boat launches. Bison, elk, deer and prairie dogs can be seen along the 3.5 mile wildlife drive throughout the year. The Fort Niobrara NWR’s visitor center features self-guided and ranger-led interpretive services and is visited by approximately 40 million people each year.
Big Blue Ranch
70901 609th Avenue
Burchard, NE 68323
Big Blue Ranch is a place to enjoy the Great Plain’s wildlife and scenery on an operating cattle ranch. Along with tradiational hunting and fishing, ranch activities feature horseback riding, nature photography, and bird watching. It’s an especially great place to see the greater prairie chicken and blue herons. It’s a relaxing get away close to Lincoln, Omaha, and Kansas City. The ranch has been honored with a number of conservation awards including the Rangeland Conservation Award from the Lower Big Blue NRD. The open prairie, woodlands, and lakes are home to many species including coyote, bobcat, red squirrel, fox, and leopard frogs. The ranch’s owners, Billie Kay and Scott Bodie, have continuously worked to improve the sustainability and diversity of their pastures through rotational grazing, inter-seeding with beneficial species, and controlled burning.
Double R Guest Ranch
86091 Double R Drive
Mullen, NE 69152
The drive to Double R Guest Ranch is along one of the most scenic and least populated stretches of highways in the state, Highway 97, connecting Mullen and Valentine. The property includes three big lakes and is a working cattle ranch. Owner, Pat Bridges is a knowledgable local guide. A number of buildings on the property include an old sod house, a restored one-room school house, a little store, stables, and a wooden cabin near a fishing lake. “At dusk the hills are alive with their deepest shades of green making early evening the best time to get the beautiful shadows on the hills, and to capture the clouds in all their glory. Activities include hunting, fishing, ice-fishing, hiking, bird-watching, star-gazing, horseback riding. Ask Pat to take you on an ATV ride in the hills!
44450 Elm Island Rd
Gibbon, NE 68840
Rowe Sanctuary is dedicated to the conservation of sandhill cranes, whooping cranes and other migratory birds and their habitat along the Platte River. Along with preserving habitat for wildlife, Audubon’s visitor center in south central Nebraska is a home-base for crane tourism and year-round nature-based education opportunities. Guided crane viewing is scheduled by reservation between March and early April.
Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center
This 850-acre tallgrass prairie nature preserve is located 20 minutes southwest of Lincoln. Visitors can enjoy miles of walking trails all year long, meandering through a landscape that includes ponds, wetlands and scenic vistas — along with a diverse assortment of birds and other wildlife. Spring Creek Prairie offers a variety of programs, from wildflower and bird walks to a firefly event to papermaking and basket weaving classes. There’s plenty for the whole family to enjoy.
Willa Cather Memorial Prairie
The Willa Cather Memorial Prairie is 612 acres of native mixed-grass prairie just outside of Red Cloud, Nebraska. According to the Willa Cather Foundation, which manages the prairie, it is the largest, never-been-plowed prairie in the six surrounding counties and home to 250 reliant plant species, including the rare Fremont’s evening primrose and Fendler’s aster. The Foundation offers a plant guide to the Prairie available at the Willa Cather Foundation in town. The Prairie is also recognized for it’s birding, associated with both the Nebraska Birding Trails and The Chicken Dance Trail. Nearly two miles of mowed walking trails make it possible for the public to get up close and personal with an abundance of plants and wildlife.
The Foundation says, “We see the preservation of the Prairie as part of a holistic approach to the study of America’s art, history and culture through the works of Willa Cather, who was a great champion of prairie lands.”
Know of an ecotourist-friendly place in the Great Plains to see prairie chickens? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org