EDWARDS COUNTY — Even before the time of the Kiowa and Comanche, lesser prairie chickens gathered on ridges of the springtime southern plains.
Their complex ritual of excited cackles, choppy calls, inflated air sacks and territorial tussles is simply done so the species can continue amid one of America’s most inhospitable places.
It is a land of cactus, sand and devastating droughts when annual rainfall is best measured in drops. That any survived the brutal Dust Bowl is testament to the prairie bird’s ability to withstand the worst of Mother Nature.
That the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants them on the threatened and endangered list is testament to how poorly some lesser populations have fared at the hands of man.
The never-large range of the birds that demand miles of uninterrupted prairie is a bullseye for wind, oil and natural gas production and exploration.
Powerlines, roads, new cropfields and houses also annually turn productive lesser lands sterile.
Of late, lessers have been the source of great debate.
Their presence has put a hit on some multi-million dollar energy projects. Lawsuits may come from states, energy and agriculture groups hoping to block the federal listing and the limitations it could bring.
Kansas wildlife officials contend the range and population of lessers is greater than in some years past. Helicopter surveys across lesser chicken range are underway to hopefully prove their point.
Early Wednesday morning, amid the sandhills south of Kinsley, about two dozen lesser males gathered, oblivious to their role in a national controversy.
For hours they danced, fought and called the way their kind has for centuries … and always will as long as there is even one male left.