The Ottumwa Courier

AP Iowa

September 3, 2013

Prairie chicken's trek surprises Iowa scientists

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The long, circular path taken by a prairie chicken has surprised Iowa researchers who are studying the bird as part of an effort to reintroduce the species to Iowa.

The hen was fitted with a GPS tracker and released April 4 near Kellerton in south-central Iowa. It has logged nearly 1,200 miles since, flying south into northern Missouri and back again, as far north as Guthrie County in Iowa. The bird seems to have settled down in Union County.

Jen Vogel, a research associate at Iowa State University who has monitored Bird No. 112, said researchers expected the bird to travel, but not nearly so far.

"We did expect a range of maybe 50 miles. We really didn't expect this distance," Vogel told The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/17555dG ).

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is studying prairie chickens as it works to reintroduce the species. Flocks of up to 30,000 of the birds once gathered in Iowa but the species was largely gone from the state by the 1950s due to overhunting and habitat loss.

Bird No. 112, which came from Nebraska, was among 10 that were fitted with GPS trackers. One bird shed the transmitter and the other eight were killed by predators.

Vogel said no one knows why the bird traveled so much, but one theory is that since it was moved from Nebraska, it was looking for a suitable spot to call home.

"We might assume that since she came from Nebraska and we moved her to Iowa, she doesn't know where the appropriate habitat might be," she said. "It seems like the bird is looking."

Scientists said prairie chickens are an "umbrella species." That means that efforts to build habitat and grow the bird's population will indirectly help other species.

"They are an iconic bird for the prairie. They are a symbol," said Stephanie Shepherd, a DNR wildlife diversity biologist. "It would be sad to think of them not here."

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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