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It’s the age-old question for a wandering chicken

Updated: 2013-09-04T20:43:57Z

By DARRYL LEVINGS

The Kansas City Star

So why did the chicken cross 507 roads?

And those are just the Missouri gravel byways, blacktops and blasting interstates, by rough count. This wanderlusty hen has navigated successfully at least that many in Iowa, covering in all 1,182 miles.

Since April 4.

Clearly, this is not just any old bird, No. 112. The little brown greater prairie chicken has surprised biologists.

The bird has a GPS. It’s there on her collar. Maybe it’s been telling her: “At the next county, turn right … recalculating … recalculating…”

No, said Jen Vogel, who has kept track of her by satellite during postdoctoral work at Iowa State University in Ames. The bird is on her own.

“After arriving from western Nebraska, she might have been disorientated,” Vogel said. “It seems like she was searching for something.”

Released just north of the Missouri line near Bethany amid our cool, rainy spring, perhaps No. 112 was scanning for territory that looked more like drought-stricken home. Or was she seeking companionship? Not that many, maybe 100, of these birds still survive in Missouri. They’re not doing great in Iowa, either.

“We know they are struggling,” Vogel conceded.

Of the 73 transplanted Nebraska birds in this year’s cooperative effort on both sides of the state line, a few are known to have had broods. Not No. 112, of course. She was too busy racking up air miles.

Her vast but narrowing loops through 34 counties, some visited more than once, took her through St. Joseph twice, and she appears to have been charmed by the bridges of Madison County, southeast of Des Moines. Now she has returned to Iowa for the third time but has slowed in July and August. No more 24-mile jaunts in one day.

Who would blame her?

Perhaps, though, being always on the run worked in her favor. No. 112 is the only one not killed by a predator among the 10 given the solar-powered collar by Iowa biologists. Another 10 of those released just in Missouri and necklaced with a different, less effective kind of tracking system also are missing. But they may have just taken a hike, too.

Of her bird, who last checked in Tuesday, Vogel noted: “She seems to be ending her travels; her locations recently have all been in southwestern Union County (Iowa).”

Whatever No. 112 was seeking, Vogel mused, “I hope she’s found it.”

To reach Darryl Levings, call 816-234-4689 or send email to levings@kcstar.com.

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