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Lesser prairie-chicken Tympanuchus pallidicinctus
ESA status: threatened
Lesser prairie-chickens are endearing little grouse that inhabit shinnery oak and sand sagebrush grasslands in the southern Great Plains. Although comparable in morphology, plumage and behavior to greater prairie-chickens (T. cupido), lesser prairie-chickens are smaller and have distinctive courtship displays and vocalizations.
Like other western grouse, male lesser prairie-chickens engage in a communal breeding display each spring to attract females. Both males and females congregate at breeding grounds known as “leks,” where the males strut, vocalize (“boom”) and physically confront other males to defend their territories and court females. The male repertoire includes displaying their bright yellow eye combs, inflating their red air sacs, flutter jumping, cackling and stamping their feet.
Lesser prairie-chicken range has declined by over 90 percent and its population is among the smallest of North American grouse, variously estimated between 10,000 to more than 50,000 birds (although some experts have warned that fewer than 10,000 individuals may remain). Habitat loss and degradation from livestock grazing, agriculture, oil and gas extraction, wind energy production, herbicides, unnatural fire and fire suppression are primary threats to the species. Habitat fragmentation from fences and powerlines and disturbance from roads, mining, and other activities also affect the bird. The conversion of habitat to agriculture on private land currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program poses a serious threat to current populations.
Lesser prairie-chickens have been a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for more than a decade. WildEarth Guardians has sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to formally list the lesser prairie-chicken as “threatened” or “endangered” under the ESA to support recovery of the species. Guardians also successfully led a broad coalition to create a Bureau of Land Management “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” to protect key habitat for lesser prairie-chickens on public land in New Mexico. We are determined to protect this adorable grouse so that they may continue to charm current and future generations.
- Significant Actions
- November 2004 - "The Sky Really is Falling for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken" (report)
- June 2008 - "Lesser Prairie-Chicken: A Decade in Purgatory" (report)
- August 2010 - WildEarth Guardians sues to protect lesser prairie-chicken
- May 2011 - Lesser prairie-chicken included in landmark settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- November 2012 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to list the lesser prairie-chicken as “threatened”
- June 2013 - WildEarth Guardians comments on the proposed rule
- July 2013 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces a 6-month extension on the final listing determination for the lesser prairie-chicken
- December 2013 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases a revised special rule for the lesser prairie-chicken
- February 2014 - Guardians submits comments on the revised special rule
- September 2016 - Guardians and allies submit a scientific petition to emergency-list the lesser prairie chicken and three Distinct Population Segments
- Press Releases
- November 5, 2007 - "Bureau of Land Management Plan for Imperiled Prairie-Chicken and Sand Dune Lizard Falls Short"
- June 10, 2008 - "Decade Anniversary of Lesser Prairie-Chicken's Purgatory as Candidate for Protection"
- March 20, 2009 - "State of the Birds' Report Further Evidence of Need to Protect Western Grouse"
- September 1, 2010 - "WildEarth Guardians Marks First Passenger Pigeon Day"
- May 10, 2011- “Hope for Endangered Species Act Candidates”
- September 9, 2011 - “Federal Court Approves Historic Species Agreement”
- November 15, 2011 - "Lesser Prairie Chicken in Line for Federal Protection"
- November 30, 2012 - “Feds Propose Lesser Prairie-chicken for Protection”
- December 10, 2013 - “Feds Propose Blank Check for Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Destruction”
- February 12, 2014 - “Lesser Prairie Chicken Should be Listed as Endangered”
- March 27, 2014 - "Unprecedented Loopholes Undermine Endangered Species Act Protections for Lesser Prairie Chicken"
- July 5, 2016 - “Lesser Prairie Chicken Numbers Plummet in 2016”
- September 8, 2016 - "Emergency Protections Sought for Imperilled Lesser Prairie Chicken"
- Species Factsheet
- Related Campaigns