Do you know of a bird that lives in the grasslands of central Nebraska called a Prairie Chicken? Belonging to the grouse family, this once-common bird is now rare or gone from much of its original range. It has a most extraordinary mating ritual called booming where the males fan their tail feathers, stomp their feet, extend their comb-like feathers beside their eyes, inflate their orange neck patch, leap suddenly in the air, all while making the most unusual sounds. They are of course, as boys will do, trying to impress the girls who walk around and size up the eligible mates. (I will feature videos of this after I return from my road trip!)
Until recently I knew nothing of this bird but two days ago went on an early-morning excursion in Burwell, Nebraska to see them. As is true of much in nature, words cannot do this animal justice and I fear I will fall short of conveying my awe at the ordinary booming ritual.
Maybe you know this bird, maybe not, but either way my point is simply this week’s quote:
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” –Baba Dioum, African conservationist
I was astonished to be here in this part of the country where half a million sandhill cranes migrate through here each year (more on this next week)and a bird called a prairie chicken dances in fields each morning for 6 weeks and yet SO MANY local people aren’t even aware of these wonders right in their own backyards! In conversations during our travels here we have met so few people who actually knew of either bird. There are “prairie chickens” in every town in America–animals that possess amazing or unusual adaptations that would lead a visitor to shake her/his head in wonder. It could be a frog that freezes solid in the winter, a bird that flies 3000 miles without stopping, a spider that can jump 20 times its body length, a salamander that goes 10 years without eating… These animals are everywhere!
To me, this lack of familiarity with the animals we share our yards with is tragic because I know that Baba Dioum is absolutely correct and that we will never convince people to protect things they know nothing about. We MUST work towards changing what people know…. will you help me? Every person has the power to educate others whether in our day to day lives or during that chance encounter when we meet someone and start talking and hear them say, “Really? I never knew that!”
What amazing animals do you have in your backyard?