Missouri prairie chicken 'Lonesome Chuck' awaits a mate that may never come

LOCKWOOD, Mo. - The lonesome mating call of a single prairie chicken echoes through the wheat fields and patches of prairie near Lockwood, Mo.

The prairie chicken can't find a mate and that's earned him the nickname "Lonesome Chuck."

Conservation officials say he's one of the last of his kind in that area.

"We're losing an icon of the prairie. You need to recognize that the landscape has changed over the last 50 years. Significantly."

Thousands of acres of prairie used to dominate the western edge of Missouri. Now it's mostly farmland.

"This is a 320 acre prairie," said Kyle Hedges, with the Missouri Department of Conservation. "This is a postage stamp in the life of a prairie chicken."

The chickens contend with barbed wire fences, dirt roads and unusual weather patterns.

"Before the droughts we had the wet springs, 3 or 4 or 5 wet springs," said Rick Rath, with the Missouri Department of Conservation. "That really hurts your production as far as successful nests."

A big problem in prairie conservation is that fescue grass trickles in from nearby pastures and ditches. And it's not the right kind of habitat to support prairie chicken life.

"It makes it difficult for small chicks to be able to move around through that," Hedges said.

At one time, the area supported a thriving population. But in the last few years, the area has lost nearly 60 chickens.

And it's a statewide phenomenon.

"Fifty years ago, the prairie chickens were actually a nuisance," Rath said. "There were so many in the crop fields, eating crops and things like that."

Conservationists could try to move Chuck to another prairie, or bring in other hens.

But whether he mates or not, his chances aren't good.

"We're not gaining anything," Hedges said. "Nature needs to play out here. Nature will take its course."

The isolation has made chuck incredibly territorial.  Now he spends his days calling out to a mate he might never find.