Lesser prairie-chicken Tympanuchus pallidicinctus
ESA status: candidate for listing
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.
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photo credit: Jess Alford