Bird of the Week, August 5, 2011
Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Lesser Prairie Chicken by Noppadol Paothong


This smaller, lighter-colored cousin of the Greater Prairie-Chicken has declined dramatically in recent decades, primarily due to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. It now occupies less than 15 percent of its historic range, and despite being a Candidate Species for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1998, remains unlisted.


The Lesser Prairie-Chicken prefers rather arid, mid-grass prairie of dwarf shrubs and mixed vegetation.  Males display on leks (courtship grounds) of up to 40 birds in the spring; nesting females require a canopy of grasses for successful nesting and raising young.  This habitat has been increasingly whittled away by overgrazing, drought, and oil and gas development, which continue to place remaining habitats for this species at risk. The clearing of land for wind development poses a significant new threat, since these birds will not tolerate habitat disturbance near lekking and nesting areas.


Legislation introduced as an add-on to the most recent round of budget bills tried to place a moratorium on new Endangered Species Act listings, which would have prevented the Lesser Prairie-Chicken from ever gaining ESA protection, but it was defeated following a public outcry and action by ABC and other groups. However, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken is now facing another, more specifically targeted amendment aimed at blocking its listing, which could be considered by Congress later this year.


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Photo: Lesser Prairie Chicken by Noppadol Paothong; Range Map: ABC