Greater Prairie-Chickens were once abundant in much of central North America and throughout Illinois. The species is considered the signature bird of the tallgrass prairie. However, over 99% of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem has been destroyed, primarily for conversion to agriculture (Samson and Knopf 1994), and a great number of tallgrass prairie species are imperiled in Illinois. Primarily due to this loss of habitat, populations of the Greater Prairie-Chicken declined range-wide. In Illinois, one remnant population of these birds still persists at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area in Jasper and Marion counties.
The Prairie Ridge State Natural Area is a unique site in Illinois, dedicated to conserving the rarest members of Illinois' native tallgrass prairie and marsh communities. It offers one of the most spectacular viewing opportunities for grassland wildlife in Illinois. Much effort has been devoted at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area to Greater Prairie-Chicken conservation, and effective methods have been developed for monitoring populations, restoring and managing habitat, translocation, and controlling predators and nest parasites. The National Audubon Society has also recognized Prairie Ridge as an "Important Bird Area".
To learn more about Prairie Ridge State Natural Area and their efforts to conserve the Greater Prairie-Chicken, check out the interview below with Bob Gillespie, a Heritage Grassland Ecologist and Site Manager of Prairie Ridge State Natural Area, published in February of 2021 by the Outdoor Illinois Journal. Topics discussed include the history of the Greater Prairie-Chicken in Illinois, what it means for a species to be endangered, the Greater Prairie-Chicken recovery plan, research on Grater Prairie- Chickens and what we have learned, site management for the species, what it is like to work with the Greater Prairie-Chickens year-round, and tips for visiting the natural area to see the Greater Prairie-Chickens. Prairie Ridge State Natural Area has limited public access, but the Greater Prairie-Chicken can be viewed from public roadways. One can further coordinate a viewing by contacting the site manager.