Although the plow and axe pushed many birds and mammals out of their former range, these two settlement tools initially improved conditions for the Greater Prairie-Chicken in Minnesota. Prior to settlement, the prairie chicken’s range was probably restricted to the southern portion of the state. By the 1880s, they could be found statewide, with the exception of the extreme northeast and north-central portions. For the next several decades prairie chickens were so abundant that it was common to see flocks numbering in the hundreds migrating across southwestern Minnesota to wintering areas in Iowa. However, as agricultural practices became more intensive in the prairie and northern deciduous regions, and second growth timber replaced the forest clearings of the boreal region, prairie chicken numbers began to decline significantly.
Today, remnant populations of Greater Prairie-Chickens exist in only a few areas of the state, dependent on undisturbed tracts of grassland combined with a mix of pastureland, hayfields, and open brushland. The state’s only areas meeting these unique habitat requirements are the beach ridges of the former Glacial Lake Agassiz in the prairie region, where remnant prairie tracts provide adequate undisturbed grassland cover for nesting. The Rothsay area marks the southernmost portion of one of these well-known beach lines. Over the years, giant icons (statues embodying a town or regional mascot) have sprung up across Minnesota, and some of them are birds.
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