Prairie chicken art contest accepting entries

File photo The ninth annual High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival in Milnesand is scheduled for April 16-18, and the affiliated art contest is ongoing, with a March 1 deadline.

By Argen Duncan: Freedom New Mexico

The lesser prairie chickens will be strutting their stuff again this year in Milnesand, and artists have a chance to show off their work, too.

The ninth annual High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival in Milnesand is scheduled for April 16-18, and the affiliated art contest is ongoing, with a Mar. 1 deadline. The festival includes early-morning viewing of the bird’s mating ritual and a variety of tours on subjects dealing with nature, conservation and history during the rest of the day.

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish spokesman Dan Williams said the event aims to make people more aware of the native New Mexico bird, which is losing its habitat, and of the efforts of various agencies to increase the prairie chicken’s numbers.

“It’s also a lot of fun,” he said.

Festival co-coordinator Tish McDaniel of Clovis said the festival also gets ranchers and conservationists into the same room and shows them that they have common ground, and provides support for the community of Milnesand.

According to the Game and Fish Web site, the lesser prairie chicken’s population was so low a decade ago it was close to making state and federal threatened lists.

However, conservationists and landowners worked together, and the population rebounded, although it’s still much lower than the estimated 1960s population, according to the site.

McDaniel, a Portales native and Nature Conservancy employee, said she expects the festival to be sold out by the end of the week.

As for the art contest, artists kindergarten age and up can enter any kind of depiction of the bird and its habitat, according to a news release from Game and Fish. They can use prints, paint, photography, digital work or other two-dimensional media.

“It’s a good opportunity to participate in the efforts to bring prairie chicken populations up and just promote awareness of this amazing bird,” Williams said.

The grand prize winner is to receive $300 and have his or her entry printed on the annual festival poster, which is distributed around the state. Winners will also be chosen in three age categories, according to the release.

At the festival this year, McDaniel said she is expecting two new presentations: one by historic archeologist Cherie Cloudt on dug-outs and one by Texas Tech University associate professor Susan Tomlinson on nature journaling.

McDaniel said the lesser prairie chicken’s population fluctuations indicate the health of the grassland, and it symbolizes the Great Plains.

“It’s a very charismatic bird,” she said, adding that its mating display can mesmerize even people not usually interested in birds.

While it’s late to register for this year’s festival, McDaniel said, people can send an e-mail to chickenfestival@yahoo.com to receive an early-bird announcement for next year.