our trip to Wray for prairie chickens

I left work early Friday so Beth and I could drive to the little town of Wray, Colorado. Wray is on the plains of the northeast part of the state, not far from the Nebraska state line. The reason for our trip? It’s the mating season of the Greater Prairie Chicken. For a one month period, this formerly-endangered species does a very memorable mating ritual, and Wray is one of the few places where these birds live. Not much happens in Wray this time of year, so it’s a big deal there when a few dozen people come visit each weekend. The event is apparently organized by the chamber of commerce, with support by the Division of Wildlife and local business owners.

Wray is about a 3 hour drive from Broomfield, and we arrived in town about 6 PM Friday. We had dinner at a very unmemorable Mexican restaurant called La Familia (there were no Mexicans in sight, and the food was about as authentic Mexican as a Burger King taco). After dinner, there was an orientation at the Wray Museum for about an hour. There we learned the plan for the next day, and watched some videos.

Saturday morning we got up at 4 AM, and boarded a school bus at 4:45 AM. We arrived at the lek – that’s the open area where the birds do their mating dances – around 5:20 AM and loaded into a special blind they had built out of a trailer. There were two rows of seats, and two big panels that open up on one side to allow people to see the birds. Nobody can go outside the trailer during the mating rituals, and we were very quiet in order to not disturb the birds. It was still dark when we arrived, but shortly before there was enough light to see anything, we heard the chickens start to boom. Then, as the dark turned to light we could make out a few of them as they came from the surrounding grassy areas onto the lek.

I eventually counted a total of 43 birds, of which about 30 were seriously involved in the mating dances. The dominant males carve out a little territory on the dance floor, and then continually do a dance where they stamp their feet and puff out the air sacks in their throats. They walk back and forth in their territory, fighting off any other males that come into their little 10 foot by 10 foot (roughly) area. The females then come walking through the whole mess, checking out all the males to decide which will be the lucky one.

The distinctive dance of the greater prairie chickens inspired some of the dances the plains Indians still do today. It’s a pretty unusual sight, and fairly impressive. Occasionally, a sub-dominant male will try to fly into the middle of the dance, and the dominant males all chase him out to the edges. And the females occasionally fight one another, too. By about 7:30, after watching this for around 2 hours, the show was mostly over and so the group left. The bus took us to a local grazing association, where we had a big breakfast of pancakes, really good local bacon, and local scrambled eggs. We were back to the motel by about 9:45, and got cleaned up, checked out, and headed back home.

Along the way, we stopped in Brush at the Brush City Diner for lunch. I liked it so much, I wrote a Google Local review on the place. And then we arrived back home around 2:30-ish. Even by mid-afternoon it had been a long day!


  1. Mandatory math question ?

    Hey Todd – great essay about the mating prairie chickens ! I learned much and enjoyed the story. I would like to visit – will it be going on in a couple of future weekends ?
    Bette Erickson

  2. I also loved the little Burger King taco website. I was wondering if the Fair Oaks was in Texas. I have friends that live in Fair Oaks…it is just outside of San Antonio. Seems like the area that would have tacos at a BK.

  3. Bette, to your question, the prairie chicken viewings are going on for 2 more weekends. The Wray Chamber of Commerce guy said they always sell out, so I don’t know if there are any reservations available anymore. To find out for sure, you should give them a call:


    Betty, to your question, I have no idea if the Burger King taco website owner is in Texas. It wouldn’t surprise me. However, I had tacos at the Burger King right here in Broomfield a couple years ago. They didn’t taste like real tacos but they were tasty nonetheless.

    And what are the odds that I’d get blog comments from someone named Bette and someone named Betty? Maybe that should be the mandatory math question!

  4. I actually rather liked the BK taco’s!
    The prairie chickens are so cool. Reminds me of heading to RM National Park in mid September to watch the bull elk and moose. Too bad we didn’t know about the “chickens” earlier, it would be something right up Rick’s and my alley for a weekend getaway!

  5. Great blog, son. I could almost hear the booming and see the feet pounding. The ritual of course is the same for others in the prairie chicken family, including the sage grouse, that I used to see a lot of in Wyoming.

  6. I watched a video of the sage grouse, and the ritual looks similar, but they don’t do the fast little dance with their feet like the prairie chickens do.

    Here’s the human version:

    And here’s the animal version:

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