Points of Interest:
• One of the last native prairies in Missouri to currently support the rare greater prairie-chicken.
• A great place to see the full suite of prairie birds.
• One of Missouri’s largest prairie remnants with a great diversity of plant species.
Natural History: One of the largest remaining tallgrass prairies in Missouri, this designated National Natural Landmark supports over 350 native plant species and 18 species of plants and animals of conservation concern. This is a good place to bird for a variety of grassland bird species including the dickcissel, upland sandpiper, scissor-tailed flycatcher, Bell’s vireo, Henslow’s sparrow, sedge wren, field sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, blue grosbeak, and eastern meadowlark. Of all Missouri bird species, some of our grassland birds have declined the most. Painfully true to this pattern is the greater prairie-chicken.
Prairie-chickens once numbered in the hundreds of thousands across Missouri’s 15 million acres of prairie in 1800. Even as late as the 1940s around 15,000 of the birds persisted. In 2009 less than 200 birds were left. Taberville Prairie is one of the last places in Missouri to harbor a small population of these beautiful birds. The Conservation Department is working with a number of other partners in a Grasslands Coalition to stop the decline of the prairie-chicken and other prairie birds. The reasons for the decline of the prairie-chicken are directly related to destruction and degradation of their habitat. Today less than 1% of Missouri’s prairie remains. Prairie-chickens cannot thrive in landscapes dominated by row crop fields or tall fescue pastures.
However, other than the prairie-chicken, you are likely to see thriving populations of all the other prairie birds here. In addition to birds, keep your eyes out for the 43 butterfly species that have been sighted here, including an abundance of the regal fritillary, a species of conservation concern. Forty six leaf beetle species have been noted using the prairie, including one that was unknown to science until 1980 that feeds primarily on narrow-leaved dragonhead, an abundant wildflower on the prairie. A number of rare plants make the prairie their home, including the diminutive geocarpon, listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which inhabits sandstone outcrops. Also special to Taberville Prairie are the headwaters of Baker Branch Creek, a designated Outstanding State Resource Water.
During your visit to Taberville Prairie you may encounter cattle grazing on portions of the prairie. Cattle are being used here in a grazing system known as patch-burn grazing that creates a patchwork of vegetation structures preferred by a number of declining grassland bird species. This management practice is intended to mimic the historical interaction of fire and bison grazing – natural disturbances that were key in the development of tallgrass prairies. Other management practices used to maintain the prairie include prescribed fire rotations, occasional haying, and spot treatment of invasive, exotic species such as sericea lespedeza. More than any other natural community, prairies require frequent management to thrive.
From the intersection of Highway 54 and 82 in El Dorado Springs, travel north on Highway 82 for nearly 3 miles and turn left (north) onto Highway H. Travel north on Highway H for about 11 miles and look for the parking lot off to the right (east) side of Highway H. An old field road leads down across the prairie. The east side of the natural area can also be accessed from two parking lots on County Road NW 1001.