WatchList Species Account for Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Greater Prairie-chicken
Photo: Laura Erickson

With its spectacular yearly breeding displays that fascinate birders and non-birders alike, the Greater Prairie-Chicken was once common in native prairie, oak savannas, and woodland in central North America, with populations on and near the Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Massachusetts.


There are three recognized subspecies of the Greater Prairie-Chicken: one is extinct (the Heath Hen), one is critically endangered (the Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken) and one (the Greater Prairie-Chicken) has been extirpated or is nearly extirpated in 15 states and provinces, but is sufficiently numerous in four states to still be legally hunted.


Though some birds are resident, others move over 100 miles between wintering and breeding areas, with females more likely to migrate than males. Current breeding habitat is mid and tall grass prairie, often mixed with cropland. This species feeds on insects and a variety of vegetable matter. Originally the bird depended on acorn mast in winter, but now feeds on cultivated grains such as corn and sorghum.


The primary cause of mortality for the Greater Prairie-Chicken is predation on both eggs and birds. Human-associated factors such as farm machinery, electric wires, and fences are also causes of mortality, as is fire and severe weather. Pesticides may reduce insects on which the bird feeds.


The most effective conservation measure for this species appears to be habitat improvement by manipulation of grazing, controlled burns, providing thick vegetation for cover, and establishing preserves.