WatchList Species Account for Lesser Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Lesser Prairie-chicken

Photo: USFWS

Less widespread and less common than the closely-related Greater Prairie-Chicken, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken is found only in the U.S. It has declined dramatically to only a fraction of its former numbers because of plowing and overgrazing of the prairie, though excessive market hunting also played a role; its numbers are still diminishing and it now inhabits less than 10% of its historic range.


Its present range includes small parts of five states: southwestern Kansas, southeastern Colorado, eastern New Mexico and parts of the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. Its preferred habitat is sand sagebrush-bluestem and shinnery oak-bluestem grasslands.


Each spring males gather at leks to perform their courtship dances to attract mates. The same sites are used year after year. The peak display period is from mid-March to mid-May. Some leks may have as many as 40 males. During courtship the male inflates the reddish-purple sacs on its neck and emits a booming sound that can be heard up to a mile away.


Lesser Prairie-Chickens need habitat with a mosaic of bunchgrass and open ground. In the winter, the bunchgrass dies and falls over, creating a canopy for hens to nest. Once the chicks have hatched, they need both bunchgrass and open ground where they can forage for insects. Population is limited by the fact that there is not enough residual cover for nesting hens; reduced cover can result from grazing and from oil and gas development, both among the multiple uses on the grassland. Weather is an important factor in breeding success of the birds; a lack of rain at the right times of year can severely impact the amount of suitable habitat.


In Kansas and Texas there is a limited hunting season on Lesser Prairie-Chicken, though hunting pressure is not intense. Under active management such as exists on some federal lands, the species has increased its numbers at some sites in the last few years. The five states where the bird still exists have cooperated to develop a management plan for the species