endemic to a single nation
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (20,000-200,000 square km (about 8000-80,000 square miles)) Historical range extended from southeastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas southward through western Oklahoma to southeastern New Mexico and western Texas (Hagen and Giesen 2005; USFWS 2009, 2010). Currently, the species is discontinuously distributed within a small portion of the historical range, including all five of these states. Formerly the species ranged north to southwestern Nebraska, but there is no evidence of breeding in that state, and the species' ephemeral occurrence there may have been an artifact of post-settlement habitat changes (AOU 1983, Giesen 1998).
- Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
T. cupido ssp. cupido - formerly along the East Coast, from
Massachusetts south to Maryland and inland
to north-central Tennessee
T. c. ssp. pinnatus - in small isolated populations in Michigan,
Wisconsin, Illinois, northwestern Minnesota,
eastern North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska,
Kansas, Missouri, and northern Oklahoma
T. c. ssp. attwateri - Texas Coastal Plain
T. pallidicinctus - southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas
through western Oklahoma, eastern New Mexico,
and the Texas Panhandle
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
Occurrence in North America
Length: 41 cm
Weight: 784 grams
Lesser prairie-chicken is almost identical in appearance to the greater prairie-chicken. The latter is slightly larger, with orange cervical air sacs in males, and slightly darker plumage coloration overall. Breast feathers of lesser prairie-chicken have 4-6 alternating brown and white bars, versus 1-4 alternating brown and white bars in greater prairie-chicken (Short 1967). Downy young of lesser prairie-chicken are slightly paler than greater prairie-chicken, with less brownish underparts (Sutton 1968).
Catalog Number: USNM A10005
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
Sex/Stage: Female; Adult
Preparation: Skin: Whole
Collector(s): J. Pope
Locality: near 32 degrees L [emended to prairies near Abilene (Deignan 1961)], [Taylor], Texas, United States, North America
- Cotype: Ridgway. December 1873. Bull. Essex Inst. 5: 199.
Catalog Number: USNM A10007
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
Sex/Stage: Male; Adult
Preparation: Skin: Whole
Collector(s): J. Pope
Locality: near 32 degrees L [emended to prairies near Abilene (Deignan 1961)], [Taylor], Texas, United States, North America
- Cotype: Ridgway. December 1873. Bull. Essex Inst. 5: 199.
Habitat and Ecology
Habitat Type: Terrestrial
Comments: Lesser prairie-chickens inhabit mixed grass-dwarf shrub communities that occur on sandy soils; principally the sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifoilia)-bluestem (Andropogon spp.) association in Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma, and to a lesser extant, Texas and New Mexico; and the shinnery oak (Quercus havardii)-bluestem association in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico (Giesen 1998, Hoffman 1963, Jackson and DeArment 1963, Taylor and Guthery 1980 Riley et al. 1992, Fuhlendorf et al. 2002, Johnson et al. 2004, Bell 2005, Patten et al. 2005). Leks typically occur on knolls or ridges with relatively short and/or sparse vegetation (Giesen 1998, Jones 1963, Taylor and Guthery 1980b). Lesser prairie-chicken leks may be on human-created open areas (e.g., oil well pads, roads, reverted cropland, cultivated fields, and areas treated with herbicides; Crawford and Bolen 1976, Taylor 1980) and recently burned areas (Cannon and Knopf 1979).
Nests are often constructed on north- or northeast-facing slopes, presumably for protection from prevailing southwest winds and direct sunlight (Giesen 1998). Nesting sites are in sand sagebrush or shinnery oak grasslands with high canopy cover and moderate vertical and horizontal cover, primarily residual vegetation (Giesen 1998). Females prefer to nest in relatively tall, dense vegetation (Giesen 1994b, Riley et al. 1992, Wisdom 1980 cited in Giesen 1998). Nests often are under sand sagebrush or shinnery oak shrub (Bent 1932; Davis et al. 1979, cited in Giesen 1998; Giesen 1994b; Sell 1979, cited in Giesen 1998) or amid tall bunchgrasses (Andropogon, Aristida, Schizachyrium; Haukos and Smith 1989; Riley 1978, cited in Giesen 1998; Wisdom 1980, cited in Giesen 1998). Height and density of forbs and residual grasses are greater at nest sites than on adjacent rangeland (Davis et al 1979, cited in Giesen 1998; Giesen 1994b; Haukos and Smith 1989; Riley et al. 1992).
Average height of vegetation and grasses at 29 nests in sand sagebrush rangeland in Colorado was 50.7 centimeters and 36.1 centimeters, respectively. Twenty nests (69 percent) were under sand sagebrush or small yucca (Yucca glauca) and nine (31 percent) in bunchgrasses, principally (n = 5) sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus). Shrub, forb, and grass height at nests was significantly greater than along transects (Giesen 1994b). In shinnery oak rangeland in Oklahoma, vegetation height above one nest ranged from 32-52 centimeters (USFWS 1998). Mean height of vegetation above one nest in sand sagebrush rangeland in Oklahoma was 45 centimeters (USFWS 1998). Average plant height above 13 nests in shinnery oak rangeland of the Texas panhandle was 45.3 centimeters; nine nests (69 percent) were in purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea; Haukos and Smith 1989). Mean height of vegetation above successful nests (n = 10) in shinnery oak rangeland of New Mexico was 66.6 centimeters, whereas mean height of vegetation at unsuccessful nests (n = 26) was 34.9 centimeters (Riley et al. 1992). Four (40 percent) of the successful nests were located in sand bluestem (Andropogon hallii).
Prairie-chickens need open grasslands for brood rearing and feeding,
more open and shorter grasslands for booming grounds, and scattered
shrub thickets for protection from weather and predators [7,11,22].
Prairie-chickens seem to nest in the taller grasses (8 to 15 inches
[16.5-38 cm]) found within their ranges . A stable winter food
source is more important for greater prairie-chickens than protection
against the cold. Therefore, native grasslands mixed with small grain
agricultural fields are ideal habitat . Adequate cover with 0.5 mile
of booming grounds is necessary because females tend to nest within this
distance. Optimum cover for lesser prairie-chickens consists of
midgrass to tallgrass prairies for nesting and winter cover, mixed with
lower seral stage grasses for brood rearing and feeding . They need
more shrubs for shade during the hot summer months than do greater
Greater prairie-chickens prefer shortgrass and midgrass prairies mixed
with tall grasses. In these types they choose edges of midgrass and
tallgrass interfaces for day resting, and choose heavier shrub cover for
nesting. Lesser prairie-chickens prefer shortgrass prairies intermixed
with shrubs, and sites with more dense cover . Prairie-chickens of
both species prefer bluegrasses for nesting throughout their range. The
ideal grass height for nesting is 11.8 inches (30 cm) . A study in
Oklahoma showed that greater prairie-chickens tolerated an average of
2-inch (5 cm)-taller grass than lesser prairie-chickens . In
Wisconsin, greater prairie-chickens preferred pastures, stubble fields,
and mowed hayfields for booming grounds, where they display and
establish territories before mating . In Kansas, prairie-chickens
used sorghum fields during winter and forest edges on ridges during all
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES38 Plains grasslands
Associated Plant Communities
Colorado, and Texas [11,20,22]. Plant communities include sand
sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia)-little bluestem (Schizachyrium
scoparium) types with sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus), purple
threeawn (Aristida purpurea), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).
Lesser prairie-chickens also inhabit shin oak (Quercus havardii)-big
bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) types. Greater prairie-chickens inhabit
climax grasslands of the eastern Great Plains [5,11]. These prairies
are dominated by big and little bluestem, indiangrass (Sorghastrum
nutans), and switchgrass (Panicum spp.). Oak (Quercus spp.)-hickory
(Carya spp.) forests may have once been used by greater prairie-chickens
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
1 Jack pine
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K054 Grama - tobosa prairie
K065 Grama - buffalograss
K069 Bluestem - grama prairie
K070 Sandsage - bluestem prairie
K074 Bluestem prairie
K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie
K077 Bluestem - sacahuista prairie
K084 Cross Timbers
K088 Fayette prairie
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
This species is regarded as nonmigratory; however, there are unconfirmed reports that the Texas portion of the population may have been migratory at one time (Jackson and DeArment 1963).
Home range size varies according to sex, time of year, and reproductive activity. Females typically nest 1.2-3.4 kilometers (range 0.2-13.9, n = 90 nests) from a lek (see Hagen and Giesen 2005). During spring and summer in Colorado, females ranged over 496 hectares whereas males, which stayed closer to leks, ranged over 211 hectares (Giesen 1998). In Texas during winter, males occupied 50-1945 hectares and moved 0.39-1.07 kilometers per day, whereas females used 35-495 hectares and moved 0.27-1.23 kilometers per day (Taylor and Guthery 1980a). In New Mexico, pre-nesting females ranged over an average of 231 hectares and moved an average of 390 meters per day, nesting females used an average of 92 hectares and moved an average of 250 meters per day, females with broods occupied a mean of 119 hectares and moved an average of 280 meters per day, and females without broods used an average of 73 hectares and moved a mean of 220 meters per day (Riley et al. 1994). Males on leks defend territories ranging in size from less than 40 to more than 150 square meters (Hjorth 1970, cited in Giesen 1998).
Males exhibit fidelity to leks between breeding seasons. In New Mexico, 96.5 percent of males captured on leks were recaptured on the same lek the following year (Campbell 1972). In addition, males may occupy the same territory within a lek in subsequent years (Giesen 1998). Site fidelity has also been observed in females. One female, captured in Kansas and released in Colorado, returned nearly 300 kilometers to her original capture site (Giesen 1998). Maximum movements between spring leks and late-fall relocations was 20.8 kilometers for subadults and 3.2 kilometers for adults (Campbell 1970). One juvenile moved 12.8 kilometers from the lek where it was captured 5 days prior (Taylor and Guthery 1980c).
In Oklahoma, the maximum movement between summer brood ranges and display grounds was 4.6 km; half the population moved less that 2.3 km; maximum movement between fall-winter range and display grounds was 8.0 km (n = 32) (Copelin 1963). Females males tend to disperse farther from natal areas than do males (1 km) (Copelin 1963, Pitman 2003).
Comments: Diet includes insects (including insect galls), seeds, acorns, vegetative material (e.g., leaves, buds, flowers, catkins), and cultivated grains (e.g., sorghum; Taylor and Guthery 1980b, Giesen 1998). In New Mexico, crops of adults examined in spring contained 94 percent plant material and 6 percent animal material. Seventy-nine percent of the plant material was green vegetation and 15 percent was shinnery oak acorns. During the summer months, crops contained 55 percent insects (especially grasshoppers [Orthoptera] and treehoppers [Homoptera]), 23 percent green vegetation and 21 percent acorns. The diet of chicks and juveniles was 99-100 percent insects (Davis et al. 1980). Shinnery oak (acorns, leaves, catkins, galls) composed 49 percent of the spring diet, 22.5 percent of the summer diet, 50 percent of the fall diet and 70 percent of the winter diet (Davis et al. 1979, cited in Davis et al. 1980; Davis et al. 1980). In Oklahoma, the proportion (in percent) of animal to plant material in the diet of adults was 7:93 in winter, 19:81 in spring, 67:33 in summer, and 17:83 in fall (Martin et al. 1951). Jones (1963, 1964a) analyzed 1,129 droppings collected throughout the year in Oklahoma and found that major components of the diet included seeds (24.5 percent), green vegetation (33.5 percent), and insects (42 percent). In Oklahoma, the diet of juveniles up to one month old comprised insects (97.7 percent) and plants (2.3 percent; Jones 1963). Lesser prairie-chickens obtain moisture from food and drink water provided for cattle (Crawford and Bolen 1973, Giesen 1998, Jones 1964a).
chicks feed on insects for the first several months after hatching.
Studies in Oklahoma on adjacent ranges of lesser and greater prairie
chickens revealed surprising differences in the food plants selected
. Greater prairie-chickens preferred western ragweed (Ambrosia
psilostachya), Japanese brome (Bromus japonicus), sedge (Carex spp.),
lespedeza (Lespedeza stipulacea), sorghum (Sorghum vulgare), and
goldenrod (Solidago spp.). Lesser prairie-chickens preferred sand
sagebrush (Artemesia filifolia), fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), sleepy
siline (Silene antirrhina), and sixweek fescue (Festuca octoflora).
Other food plants used by both species include corn (Zea mays), wheat
(Triticum spp.), rye (Secale spp.), alfalfa (Medicago spp.), buckwheat
(Eriogonum spp.), rose (Rosa spp.), birch (Betula spp.), aspen (Populus
spp.), elm (Almus spp.), hazelnut (Corylus spp.), oak (Quercus spp.),
sweetclover (Melilotus spp.), partridge pea (Cassia fasciculata), broom
snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae), and violet (Violet spp.) [5,11,22].
spp.); skunks and weasels (Mustelidae); red fox (Vulpes vulpes); raptors
(Accipitridae); crows, ravens, and magpies (Corvidae); and many species
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 - 300
Comments: The precise number of occurrences (subpopulations) has not been determined using standardized separation criteria, but probably there are at least several dozen given a separation distance of 15 km.
10,000 - 100,000 individuals
Comments: Recent population estimate for each state are as follows (see USFWS 2010): Colorado: 1,500 (in 2000); Kansas: 19,700-31,100 (in 2006); New Mexico: 4,968 (in 2009); Okalhoma: < 3,000 (in 2000); Texas: 6,077-24,132 (in 2007). Total population based on these estimates is approximately 35,000-65,000.
This species may form flocks of up to 80 individuals in fall and winter (Copelin 1963, cited by Giesen 1998). Spring density estimates for males range from 0.31-2.24 per square kilometer in Colorado (Giesen 1998, Hoffman 1963), 0.19-11.82 per square kilometer in Oklahoma (Cannon 1980, cited in Giesen 1998; Copelin 1963, cited in Giesen 1998; Davison 1940), 1.74-1.87 per square kilometer in New Mexico (Locke 1992, cited in Giesen 1998), and 1.41-1.98 per square kilometer in Texas (Sell 1979, cited in Giesen 1998). Line transect estimates for all birds in New Mexico ranged from 20-25 per square kilometer in summer to 34-53 per square kilometer in winter (Olawsky and Smith 1991). The average lek density, rangewide is 0.1-0.43 per square kilometer (Giesen 1998).
Sex ratio estimates are generally male-biased, which could be due to unknown differences between the sexes in susceptibility to harvest or habitat preferences (Taylor and Guthery 1980b). Sex ratio estimates (males:females) range from 1.0:0.61 - 1.0:0.71 for young netted in coveys from July through September (Davison 1940), 1.0:0.77 for 1718 hunter-killed birds (Snyder 1967 cited in Giesen 1998), 1.0:0.73 for 2447 hunter-killed birds (Campbell 1972), and 1.0:1.0 for 923 hunter-killed birds (Lee 1950). Campbell (1972) estimated a 65 percent annual mortality rate and a five-year maximum life span.
Habitat-related Fire Effects
For the most part, fires are beneficial to prairie-chickens because they
can increase food; reduce litter for travelways, dusting grounds, and
booming grounds; and stimulate grass growth for brooding and hiding
Fires do not seem to negatively affect immediate use of booming grounds.
Following an April fire on prairie-chicken booming grounds in Wisconsin,
males reestablished their territory the morning after the fire .
April fires in shinnery oak communities prevent acorn production during
the burn year but maintain oak as low shrubs . Bluestem forage
production in these types decreased with spring fires, but sand bluestem
(Andropogon gerardii ssp. paucipilus) and switchgrass production
increased. Annual spring burning in aspen parkland in Minnesota
resulted in increased flowering of big and little bluestem .
December fires in Texas encouraged Atwater's prairie-chickens to use
previously unused areas for booming grounds and nesting . Birds
nested within 400 yards (366 m) of the recently burned, ungrazed plots.
Burned plots that were grazed following fire did not show a significant
increase in prairie-chicken use. Fall burning increased grass and forb
yields more than spring burning did. Insects also increased.
March and August fires on Illinois prairies resulted in an increase in
the prairie-chicken population . More nests were found in burned
areas after the second, third, and fourth seasons following both March
and August fires. Hens were more attracted to the vegetation after
August fires. However, March fires are more suitable for prairie
restoration where redtop (Agrostis alba) and timothy (Phleum pratense)
grasses have invaded native grass prairies.
Timing of Major Life History Events
Mating Season - mid-March through mid-May; males are polygamous
Nesting - about 14 days following mating, peaks in May; can nest
more than once during season
Clutch - lays 12 to 14 eggs; precocial young hatch after 23 days
Life Span - probably survives no more than 5 years in the wild
Home Range - can be as large as 1,267 acres (506.8 ha) for males and
577 acres (230.8 ha) for females
Life History and Behavior
Comments: Activity is primarily diurnal and crepuscular and occurs throughout the year.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The basic major life cycle stages minimally include breeding and lek attendance, nesting, brood rearing, and nonbreeding.
In spring and fall, adults congregate on leks where males engage in communal courtship displays at sunrise and before sunset (Giesen 1998). In Oklahoma, males have been observed on leks in every month except August and December (Jones 1964a). Dominant (usually older) males establish and defend territories in the central portion of the lek, whereas subordinant (typically younger) males are generally restricted to peripheral territories. The number of males attending a lek varies seasonally and annually, and is influenced by habitat and population density (Giesen 1998). In Colorado, the average number of males per lek was 9.4 (range = 1 - 42); in Texas, it was 13.7 (range = 1 - 43; Copelin 1963, cited in Giesen 1998; Giesen 1998). Females attend leks to copulate with males from late March through May.
Nesting is initiated from mid-April through late May, usually within two weeks of lek attendance, and hatching peaks from late May through mid-June (Bent 1932, Giesen 1998). If the first clutch is destroyed, second nesting attempts are initiated from late May through early June, with hatching extending through early July (Giesen 1998). The nest is a 20-centimeter-wide bowl-shaped depression constructed 8-10 centimeters deep in the substrate and lined with dried grasses, leaves and feathers.
One egg is laid per day and incubation begins when the clutch is complete. The average clutch size for 60 complete clutches is 10.4 eggs (range = 8 - 14; Giesen 1998). Eggs are incubated by hens only for 23-26 days and the young leave the nest within hours of hatching (Giesen 1998, USFWS 1998). Nest success (percent clutches that hatch greater than one egg) averaged 28 percent (range 0 - 67 percent) for ten studies (Giesen 1998). Nesting success is better in wetter years than drier years and among denser, taller grass than sparser, shorter grass (Davis et al. 1979, cited in Giesen 1998; Merchant 1982, cited in Giesen 1998; Riley et al. 1992). Droughts and hot, dry weather during nesting season may negatively impact hatching success (Giesen 1998).
Juveniles are well developed at hatching and develop rapidly. They leave nests with the female within 24 hours of hatching and are capable of short flight within two weeks; broods remain with females for 12-15 weeks (Giesen 1998, Hagen and Giesen 2005).
Females apparently breed at one year of age; although yearling males are physiologically capable of breeding, older males do most of the breeding (Giesen 1998). Maximum life span in the wild is around 5 years (Campbell 1972).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Tympanuchus pallidicinctus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
-- end --
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Tympanuchus pallidicinctus
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: This species has a small, fragmented range in the southwestern Great Plains region. Distribution and abundance have declined, primarily due to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation caused by conversion of native rangelands to introduced forages and cultivation, recent and anticipated conversion of Conservation Reserve Program lands to cropland, cumulative habitat degradation caused by inappropriate livestock grazing practices, wind energy development, oil and gas development, woody plant invasion of open prairies due to fire suppression, inappropriate herbicide applications, and habitat fragmentation caused by structural and transportation developments (USFWS 2010).
Intrinsic Vulnerability: Not intrinsically vulnerable
Environmental Specificity: Moderate. Generalist or community with some key requirements scarce.
Status: Proposed Threatened
Lead Region: Southwest Region (Region 2)
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Tympanuchus pallidicinctus, see its USFWS Species Profile
United States and Canada is available at NatureServe, although recent changes
in status may not be included.
U.S. Federal Legal Status
Lesser prairie-chicken is listed as Proposed Threatened .
Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 70-90%
Comments: Maximum occupied range, prior to European settlement, has been estimated by state wildlife agencies at approximately 456,087 sq km; current occupied range recently was estimated at 64,414 sq km (Playa Lakes Joint Venture 2007; USFWS 2009, 2010). This indicates that the historical occupied range has been reduced by 86 percent.
The overall distribution has sharply declined in all states except Kansas (USFWS 2009, 2010).
Historical population size is not well documented, but this species reportedly was quite common throughout the range in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas in the early twentieth century. By the 1930s, the species had begun to disappear from areas where it had been considered abundant. Abundance appeared to fluctuate somewhat during the 1940s and 1950s (see USFWS 2009), and by the early 1970s the total fall population may have been reduced to about 60,000 birds (Crawford 1980). By 1980, the estimate of the total fall population was approximately 44,000 to 53,000 birds (Crawford 1980).
Degree of Threat: High
Comments: HABITAT: The primary threat is habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation, principally due to the conversion of native sand sagebrush and shinnery oak rangeland to cropland and "improved" pastures, overgrazing, and brush control (Crawford 1980, Hamerstrom and Hamerstrom 1961, Jones 1964b, Mote et al. 1999, Taylor and Guthery 1980b). Areas with greater than 20-37 percent cultivation may be incapable of supporting stable populations (Crawford and Bolen 1976). Habitat fragmentation is detrimental for several reasons: fragments may be smaller than needed home range size (Samson 1980); necessary habitat diversity may be lost, and the probablility of recolonization decreases as distance from nearest patch increases (Wilcove et al. 1986, Knopf 1996). Fragmentation also renders nests more susceptible to predation (Mote et al. 1999). Patten et al. (2005) suggested that increased habitat fragmentation in Oklahoma resulted in higher rates of mortality than in the less fragmented habitat in New Mexico.
The possible conversion of over a million acres of currently enrolled CRP grasslands within the next two years has the potential to cause the destruction or modification of 14 percent of occupied habitat (USFWS 2010).
Development of wind energy and construction of associated infrastructure are occurring within occupied portions of lesser prairie-chicken habitat and are expected to continue. Such development renders the affected areas unsuitable for prairie-chickens, even if many of the typical habitat components used by prairie-chickens remain (USFWS 2010). Research indicates that prairie-chickens exhibit strong avoidance of tall vertical features. Robel 2002, Pitman et al. 2005). Robel (2002) estimated that, for greater prairie-chickens, a single wind turbine may create a habitat avoidance zone that extends as far as one mile. Pitman et al. (2005) found no lesser prairie-chicken nesting or brood rearing within 300 meters of power lines. USFWS (2010) considered the ongoing and large-scale potential for commercial wind power development, particularly in western Kansas, northwestern Oklahoma, and the Texas panhandle, to be a high-level threat to the survival of the species in the near future.
Research by Pitman et al. (2005) also found no nesting or lekking within 0.8 km of a gas line compressor station. Lesser prairie-chickens generally avoided human activity and seldom nested within 0.4 km of inhabited dwellings, and they avoided habitat within a 1.6 km radius of a coal-fired power plant (Pitman et al. 2005). Oil and gas development also are causing loss and degradation of occupied habitat (USFWS 2010).
DROUGHT: Drought may impact lesser prairie-chikens through its effect on seasonal growth of vegetation necessary to provide nesting and roosting cover, food, and opportunity for escape from predators (USFWS 2010). Drought may render small, fragmented populations more vulnerable to extirpation.
GRAZING: Grazing is not necessarily detrimental, but overgrazing reduces residual grass cover, an important component of nesting habitat, and reduces food plant availability (Bent 1932; Cannon and Knopf 1980; Crawford 1980; Davis et al. 1979, cited in Giesen 1998; Giesen 1994a; Riley et al. 1992). In New Mexico, Patten et al. (2006) found that grazing did not have an overall influence on where prairie-chickens occurred within their study areas, but there was evidence that the birds did not nest in portions of the study area subjected to cattle grazing. Rangeland improvement designed to increase grass cover by reducing shrub density using herbicides removes important food sources and nesting cover (Jackson and DeArment 1963, Haukos and Smith 1989).
ALIEN SPECIES: Ring-necked pheasants are known to disrupt the breeding behavior of greater prairie-chickens on leks and lay eggs in greater prairie-chicken nests. Anecdotal reports suggest similar pheasant-lesser prairie chicken interactions (USFWS 1998). More research is needed to understand and quantify impacts of pheasants on lesser prairie-chickens (USFWS 2010).
Additionally, the continued loss and degradation of currently occupied habitat in several areas in the form of heavy grazing by livestock, woody invasion due to fire suppression, oil and gas development, and fragmentation are rendering portions of previously occupied range uninhabitable for the species.
PREDATION: Predation is not known to be resulting in, or contributing to, a decline in any lesser prairie-chicken populations, but it could become important in populations that have declined to small size as a result of the foregoing threats: Confirmed predators of eggs/nests include Chihuahuan raven, coyote, badger, striped skunk, spotted ground squirrel, and bullsnake; predators of chicks and adults include rough-legged hawk,red-tailed hawk, ferruginous hawk, prairie falcon, Cooper's hawk, northern harrier, golden eagle, great horned owl, coyote, and badger (Campbell 1950, Giesen 1998, USFWS 1998).
DISEASE: There is no information that indicates parasites or disease are causing, or contributing to, the decline of any lesser prairie-chicken populations, and there is no basis for concluding that disease or parasite loads are threatening any populations (USFWS 2010).
It is legally protected in all range states, and is being considered for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act (Wolfe et al. 2007). Numbers of leks and attending males are monitored (Hagen 2005). Reintroduction programs have failed in Texas and Colorado (Hagen 2005, Wolfe et al. 2007), primarily because of habitat shortages (Hagen 2005). Some grazing regimes have been successfully manipulated, and croplands have reverted to roughly 2 million acres of grassland under Conservation Reserve Program and other private land management schemes which have benefited several populations (Hagen et al. 2002, Hagen 2005). Large areas of habitat have been purchased by some states and the Nature Conservancy and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances are being implemented in Texas. Research has been conducted on its ecology and conservation which will facilitate the production of recovery plans. Over 900 birds have been radio-tracked between 1999 and 2010. Miles of unneeded fences have been removed in parts of Oklahoma and Texas and a method has been developed to mark remaining fences to reduce mortality (Rogers 1997). Conservation Actions Proposed
Allow habitat regeneration, manage grazing to provide adequate cover and forage for prairie chickens. Continue to manage occupied habitats on private lands, and hasten progress towards effective management on public lands. Protect occupied habitats. Develop and promote effective incentives for land-owners to maintain populations. Continue monitoring leks and develop statistically robust methods of estimating populations from lek data. Regulate the construction of tall structures in or near lesser prairie-chicken habitats. Ensure effective evaluation and mitigation of the impacts of wind turbine and other tall structure installation on the species.
Restoration Potential: Restoration potential apparently is not good as all attempts to establish new populations have failed (Giesen 1998).
Rodgers and Hoffman (2005) emphasized the importance of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) habitat to the status and survival of lesser prairie-chickens. They determined that the presence of CRP lands that had been planted to native species of grasses facilitated the expansion of lesser prairie-chicken range in Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico. The range expansion in Kansas resulted in strong population increases there. In Oklahoma and Texas, and some portions of New Mexico, where CRP fields were planted with a monoculture of introduced grasses, lesser prairie-chickens did not demonstrate a range expansion or an increase in population size (Rodgers and Hoffman 2005).
Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: A mixture of tall, dense grass/shrubs and sparse, short vegetation provides optimal habitat.
The specific extent of habitat needed to sustain a viable population is unknown (USFWS 2009), but management units of 20 square kilometers and 32-72 square kilometers have been recommended based on studies of spring-summer and fall-winter habitat use, respectively (Sell 1979, cited in Taylor and Guthery 1980a; Taylor and Guthery 1980a). Most researchers agree that contiguous areas of at least 32 square kilometers in size having at least 63 percent rangeland habitat maintained as good quality shrub/grassland is needed to support populations long-term (Mote et al. 1999). Because lesser prairie-chickens usually nest within three kilometers of a lek, buffer zones and other restrictions on activities should be set up within this distance (Giesen 1998, USFWS 1998). Lesser prairie-chickens typically nest and rear their broods in proximity to a lek other than the one used for mating (Giesen 1998), so a complex of two or more leks is likely required to sustain a viable population (USFWS 2009).
Management Requirements: This species requires a mixed-grass community with a high percentage of forbs and scattered low shrubs (Doerr and Guthery 1980). This community type can be promoted and maintained with proper grazing management and careful use of herbicides or prescribed fire (Mote et al. 1999, Taylor and Guthery 1980b). Judicious use of herbicides can reduce shrub density and increase grass and forb density on overgrazed ranges. However, herbicides should not be applied unless perennial grasses are present, otherwise, grasses of little use to prairie-chickens as forage or otherwise will dominate (Doerr and Guthery 1980). Because of their importance as food sources and cover, no more than 50-70 percent of the shrubs should be eliminated from treated areas (Doerr and Guthery 1980). Herbicide treatment to control shinnery oak might adversely impact nesting lesser prairie-chickens (Johnson et al. 2004). Olawsky and Smith (1991) recommend a mosaic of treated and untreated areas.
Prescribed burns result in increased green forage, native annual forbs, and insect abundance. Burns should be limited to 20-33 percent of the management unit to preserve residual nesting cover (Bidwell et al. 1995, cited in Mote et al. 1999). Cattle exclosures can be used to prevent complete habitat loss or degradation from overgrazing (Taylor and Guthery 1980b). Food plots are not recommended because they are seldom used and do not increase population size (Copelin 1963, cited in Taylor and Guthery 1980b; Giesen 1998). Artificial leks can be created in extensive blocks of homogeneous habitat where natural leks are absent. Such leks should be at least 1.2 kilometers apart and on slightly elevated ground with short, scattered vegetation (Taylor 1980). High quality nesting habitat has an abundance of tall grasses (greater than or equal to 50 centimeters tall; Giesen 1994b; Riley et al. 1992; Wisdom 1980, cited in Giesen 1998). In order to improve or maintain optimum nesting cover, grazing utilization levels should be less than 25-35 percent of the annual growth of forage species (Riley et al. 1992, Riley et al. 1993). Although free-standing water is used, its availability is not critical for survival (Giesen 1998).
Management Programs: Populations are managed on federal and state lands in each inhabited state by relevant state or federal wildlife agencies (Mote et al. 1999, USFWS 1998). A conservation plan has been drafted by The Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group (Mote et al. 1999).
Monitoring Programs: Populations are monitored in each inhabited state by state wildlife agencies (Mote et al. 1999, USFWS 1998). Because lesser prairie-chickens are encountered so infrequently on North American Breeding Bird Survey routes or Christmas Bird Counts, these surveys are not adequate to detect population changes (Sauer et al. 1994).
Management Research Programs: Management research programs are conducted by state agencies and universities throughout the range. Telemetry studies of habitat use, as well as studies of diseases and genetics have been conducted in Oklahoma and New Mexico by the Sutton Avian Research Center. Telemetry studies and studies of parasites and diseases have been conducted in Kansas.
Management Research Needs: Most occupied habitat occurs on private lands, so much of the future of this species rests in the hands of private landowners. It is imperative to develop a means of implementing management practices beneficial to this species while preserving landowner ability to derive income from the land (Mote et al. 1999).
Research is needed on the following topics: relationship between lek counts and total population size; genetic variability among populations; dispersal ability (particularly in fragmented landscapes); population and metapopulation dynamics; minimum viable population size; minimum habitat patch size; and the effects of various land management practices on survival, productivity, and seasonal habitat preferences (Giesen 1998). In addition, successful transplantation techniques need to be developed and implemented (Taylor and Guthery 1980b), and the possible impact of ring-necked pheasant competition/reproductive interference needs study (USFWS 1998).
Global Protection: Few to several (1-12) occurrences appropriately protected and managed
Comments: Relatively few protected breeding areas exist, and those that exist may be poorly protected.
Currently, about 95 percent (61,163 square kilometers [sq km]) of occupied range is privately owned; 4 percent (3,251 sq km) is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in New Mexico, and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico; 1 percent is state-owned land.
Because most lesser prairie-chicken habitat destruction and modification on private land occurs through otherwise lawful activities such as agricultural conversion, livestock grazing, energy development, and fire exclusion, few if any regulatory mechanisms are in place to substantially alter human land uses at a sufficient scale to protect lesser prairie-chicken populations and their habitat (USFWS). Existing regulatory mechanisms at the federal and state level have not been sufficient to preclude the decline of the species (USFWS 2009).
Use of Fire in Population Management
Prescribed fires can stimulate growth of food and cover plants. They
also can reduce cover in booming grounds, and possibly reduce parasites
[15,19]. Burning can be used in conjunction with mowing every 3 to 5
years to enhance prairie grasses . In areas where ring-necked
pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) parasitize prairie-chicken nests, autumn
grass fires can reduce pheasant nest cover.
No more than one half of all nesting cover within 1 mile of a booming
ground should be burned in any single year because prairie-chickens
usually nest within this range . Burning in late September or early
October can create these display grounds in autumn and spring. Fire
lanes can provide dusting sites, travel lanes, and the desired edge for
In shinnery oak communities, fire can be used to reduce oak and
stimulate growth of understory grasses . However, some grasses may
not recover quickly enough to provide alternative cover in place of
bluestem grasses, which tend to decrease in these communities following
Fires at 3- to 5-year intervals are recommended on Minnesota prairies to
stimulate grass growth for prairie-chickens . More frequent fires
are recommended where heavy shrub cover needs to be reduced. Optimum
cover has been determined at 15 percent brush to 85 percent grassland.
Both greater and lesser prairie-chicken populations have declined
rapidly in this century due to habitat destruction and overharvesting
. Now all populations are limited to isolated areas of their
historic range. Lesser prairie-chickens are declining in Kansas from
overirrigation of the sandsage prairie .
Shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) rangelands in Texas and New Mexico are
often treated with the herbicide Tebuthiuron. Untreated oak stands that
are allowed to grow and outcompete grasses will eventually be unsuitable
habitat for prairie-chickens. However, as prairie-chickens do eat acorn
mast and use the oaks for shade, a mix of untreated and treated stands
can be a benefit to the birds .
Rotational, deferred, and moderately grazed pastures can also benefit
prairie-chickens. Grazing that maintains mid-seral to climax grasses
will provide adequate cover and food . Slightly heavier grazing can
maintain open spots for booming grounds .
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Comments: Formerly this species was subject to market hunting. Currently, legal harvest is allowed only in Kansas, and the harvest there is probably insignificant at the population level (USFWS 2010).
Stewardship Overview: USFWS (2009) recommended the following conservation measures: 1. Reduce or eliminate upland construction of fence lines and utility lines within occupied habitat and for 8 km surrounding all occupied habitat, especially near leks. If fence lines cannot be removed, it is recommended that the top and third wires of lines near active leks be conspicuously marked to minimize collision mortality. 2. Limit or eliminate the federally-funded application of tebuthiuron herbicide in remaining shinnery oak habitats and 2, 4-D herbicide in sand sagebrush habitats. 3. Encourage rangewide adherence to the USFWS's Voluntary Interim Guidelines to Avoid and Minimize Wildlife Impacts from Wind Turbines, released in July 2003, (http://www.fws.gov/habitatconservation/wind.pdf). 4. Work cooperatively with energy-related industry to avoid, minimize, and compensate for impacts to lesser prairie-chicken populations and habitats. 5. Work with partners to target re-enrollments and new contracts under CRP and related agricultural conservation programs to benefit LPC. 6. Minimize further fragmentation of remaining Federal lands within current and historic al lesser prairie-chicken range by abandoning the use of ineffective timing, noise, and distance stipulations near active or historic leks. Instead, future energy leasing, exploration, and development, or other fragmenting human land uses within essential lesser prairie-chicken habitats should be limited. 7. Establish secure and well-funded financial incentive mechanisms for private landowners to provide light to moderately grazed native rangeland habitats that are suitable for lesser prairie-chicken use but not subject to herbicidal shrub control practices. 8. Encourage increased use of prescribed fire and patch burn grazing concepts to facilitate habitat heterogeneity in lesser prairie-chicken range and decrease encroachment of woody vegetation. Patch burn grazing is a system that utilizes prescribed fire to encourage intensive grazing on a portion of a pasture each year while resting the remainder of the pasture.
See Hagen et al. (2004) for guidelines for managing lesser prairie-chickens and their habitats. See USFWS (2010) for a summary of recent conservation actions.
Lesser prairie chicken
The lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus), a species in the grouse family, is slightly smaller and paler than its near relative the Greater Prairie Chicken. About half of its current population lives in western Kansas, with the other half in the sandhills and prairies of western Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle including the Llano Estacado, eastern New Mexico, and southeastern Colorado.
Like its larger relative, it is known for its lekking behavior.
Considered "vulnerable" by the IUCN due to its restricted and patchy range, it is vulnerable to habitat destruction. There is evidence suggesting that global warming may have a particularly detrimental influence by greatly reducing the size of the sagebrush ecosystem. Subfossil remains are known, e.g., from Rocky Arroyo in the Guadalupe Mountains, outside the species' current range but where more habitat existed in the less humid conditions in the outgoing last ice age. Range contraction apparently took place no later than about 8000 BC.
The United States Department of the Interior has proposed creating a Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve as a National Monument, but it remains controversial, and President Barack Obama has not taken action on the proposal under the Antiquities Act of 1906 as of February 2012. On March 27th 2014, the Lesser Prairie Chicken was listed as threatened (T) under the Endangered Species Act.
In popular culture
The bird was featured in an episode of the TV series Dallas titled Playing Chicken, which aired on March 10, 2014. Bobby Ewing reminds John Ross Ewing that drilling for oil on Southfork would threaten the bird's natural habitat.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Tympanuchus pallidicinctus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- BirdLife International (2004). Tympanuchus pallidicinctus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 31 May 2008.
- Youth, Howard (2007). "Lekkin’ Grouse on the Prairie". Zoogoer March/April 2007. National Zoo. Retrieved 2008-05-31.
- Kirk Johnson, "In the West, 'Monument' is a Fighting Word," New York Times, February 20, 2012, page A8. | url = http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/20/us/politics/20utah.html | accessdate =2012-08-15
- "U.S. lists lesser prairie chicken as threatened, energy groups wary". Reuters: Environment. Reuters. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Genetically, the three species of Tympanuchus are not clearly distinct; evidently morphological and behavioral differentiation have progressed rapidly relative to either mtDNA or allozymes (Ellsworth et al. 1994).
Van Den Bussche et al. (2003) found reasonably high levels of genetic diversity and regional differences in genetic patterns (based on mitochondrial DNA and microsatellites) in lesser prairie-chicken populations in Oklahoma and New Mexico. Hagen (2003) found similar patterns in Colorado and Kansas. An examination of mtDNA variation in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico indicated that New Mexico had the lowest genetic diversity (Hagen 2003). This probably reflected inbreeding depression (Bouzat and Johnson 2004).
The currently accepted scientific name for the greater prairie-chicken
is Tympanuchus cupido (Linnaeus). The scientific name for the lesser
prairie-chicken is Tympanuchus pallidicinctus (Ridgway). Some authors
consider the lesser prairie-chicken a subspecies of the greater prairie-
chicken, while other authors consider them distinct species [1,11].
This report will cover both and treat them as separate species.
The typical subspecies of greater prairie-chicken is extinct. There are
two extant subspecies [1,11]:
Tympanuchus cupido ssp. pinnatus (Brewster)
Tympanuchus cupido ssp. attwateri Bendirei Attwater's prairie-chicken
Prairie-chickens hybridize with sharp-tailed grouse (T. phasianellus) .
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