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Lesser Prairie-chicken Tympanuchus pallidicinctus

This species qualifies as Vulnerable owing to a long-term and rapid population decline. Although most populations appear to have stabilized or increased since 1995, populations in north-east Texas and parts of Oklahoma have declined precipitously since 2005, and in south-east New Mexico since 2001. As the effects of drought and the increasing demand for both fossil fuel and renewable energy development (including wind and biofuels) continue to place remaining habitats at risk, the species is precautionarily retained as Vulnerable until positive trends have been sustained.

Taxonomic source(s)
AOU. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

40 cm. Plump, brown-barred gamebird. Yellow wattles of skin form eyebrow. In courtship, reddish-orange air-sacs on sides of neck inflated and neck-plumes (pinnae) erected. Female has shorter neck-plumes and barred tail. Similar spp. Sympatric with the Greater Prairie-chicken T. cupido in west-central Kansas, which is larger, darker and has yellow-orange air-sacs. Voice Light, bubbling call at leks rather than the low hooting of T. cupido.

Distribution and population
Tympanuchus pallidicinctus occurs in west-central and south-west Kansas, south-east Colorado, the Oklahoma panhandle, southwest Texas panhandle (Permian Basin) and eastern New Mexico, USA, and historically perhaps southern Nebraska (Wolfe et al. 2007). The current occupied range is a fragmented c. 64,000 km2, only c.14% of the original (Rogers 1997, Wolfe et al. 2007). Recent population estimates are 20,000-40,000 in 2007, most occurring in Kansas (Rogers 1997, Wolfe et al. 2007).

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number 20,000-40,000 individuals (H. Whitlaw in litt. 2007).

Trend justification
This species is declining rapidly (Rogers 1997; Wolfe et al. 2007), owing to conversion and development of prairie grasslands. It has undergone a large and statistically significant decrease over the last 40 years in North America (99.6% decline over 40 years, equating to a 75.7% decline per decade; data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count [Butcher and Niven 2007]).

It originally inhabited mid-grass prairie with or without interspersed shinnery oak Quercus havardii or sand sagebrush Artemisia filifolia (Hagen et al. 2002, Wolfe et al. 2007). It is now most common in dwarf shrub-mixed grass vegetation, sometimes interspersed with short grass and, optimally, with some portion (<25%) of the landscape in row grains as supplemental winter forage. Successful nests tend to be in areas with greater shrub cover and visual obstructions (Davis 2009). Leks are usually on elevated areas with short vegetation (Hagen 2005, Wolfe et al. 2007). Breeding occurs from mid-March to late May (Wolfe et al. 2007). Food comprises foliage, seeds, grain, insects in the warmer months and acorns in the south (Hagen 2005, Wolfe et al. 2007). Birds flock in late autumn and early winter, and feed in croplands (Wolfe et al. 2007).

Croplands have expanded since the late 19th century and complete conversion is now the principal threat (Hagen et al. 2002, Wolfe et al. 2007), as areas with more than 37% cultivated land are probably unsustainable (Hagen et al. 2002). Intensive grazing reduces food and cover, and herbicides reduce shrub cover and acorn production (Hagen 2005, Wolfe et al. 2007). Market hunting greatly reduced populations in the early 20th century (Wolfe et al. 2007). Numbers declined more severely in the dust bowl of the late 1930s, and significantly with droughts in the 1950s and early 1990s (Wolfe et al. 2007). Today, recreational hunting is limited to Kansas and Texas and the conservative seasons produce an annual harvest of fewer than 1,000 birds (Wolfe et al. 2007). In Oklahoma 39.5% of the prairie-chicken mortality recorded was due to fence collisions, while in New Mexico, this figure was 26.5 percent. The species has also been found to avoid power lines and so it is likely that the erection of other tall structures (including wind turbines) will lead to increased habitat fragmentation and reduced home range sizes (Pruett et al. 2009a, b) as well as reduced reproductive success (Pitman et al. 2005). Wind-energy facilities are increasing in the Great Plains, particularly in states with Lesser Prairie-chickens as these have the highest potential for wind energy development.

Conservation Actions Underway
It is legally protected in all range states, and is being considered for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act (Wolfe et al. 2007). Numbers of leks and attending males are monitored (Hagen 2005). Reintroduction programs have failed in Texas and Colorado (Hagen 2005, Wolfe et al. 2007), primarily because of habitat shortages (Hagen 2005). Some grazing regimes have been successfully manipulated, and croplands have reverted to roughly 2 million acres of grassland under Conservation Reserve Program and other private land management schemes which have benefited several populations (Hagen et al. 2002, Hagen 2005). Large areas of habitat have been purchased by some states and the Nature Conservancy and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances are being implemented in Texas. Research has been conducted on its ecology and conservation which will facilitate the production of recovery plans. Over 900 birds have been radio-tracked between 1999 and 2010. Miles of unneeded fences have been removed in parts of Oklahoma and Texas and a method has been developed to mark remaining fences to reduce mortality (Rogers 1997). Conservation Actions Proposed
Allow habitat regeneration, manage grazing to provide adequate cover and forage for prairie chickens. Continue to manage occupied habitats on private lands, and hasten progress towards effective management on public lands. Protect occupied habitats. Develop and promote effective incentives for land-owners to maintain populations. Continue monitoring leks and develop statistically robust methods of estimating populations from lek data. Regulate the construction of tall structures in or near lesser prairie-chicken habitats. Ensure effective evaluation and mitigation of the impacts of wind turbine and other tall structure installation on the species.

Davis, D. M. 2009. Nesting ecology and reproductive success of Lesser Prairie-chickens in shinnery oak-dominated rangelands. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 121(2): 322-327.

Hagen, C. A.; Jamison, B. E.; Robel, R. J.; Applegate, R. D. 2002. Ring-necked Pheasant Parasitism of Lesser Prairie-chicken Nests in Kansas. Wilson Bulletin 114(4): 522-524.

Hagen, C. A.; Pitman, J.C.; Sandercock, B. K.; Robel, R.J.; Applegate, R.D. 2005. Age-specific variation in apparent survival rates of male Lesser Prairie-chickens. Condor 107: 78-86.

Pitman, J.C.; Hagen, C. A.; Robel, R.J.; Loughin, T.M.; Applegate, R.D. 2005. Gender identification and growth of juvenile Lesser Prairie-chickens. Condor 107: 87-96.

Pruett, C. L.; Patten, M. A.; Wolfe, D. H. 2009. Avoidance behavior by Prairie Grouse: implications for development of wind energy. Conservation Biology 23(5): 1253-1259.

Pruett, C. L.; Patten, M. A.; Wolfe, D. H. 2009. It's not easy being green: wind energy and a declining grassland bird. BioScience 59(3): 257-262.

Rogers, J. G. 1997. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants: 90 day finding for a petition to list the Lesser Prairie-chicken as threatened. Federal Register 62(130): 36482-36484.

Storch, I. 2007. Conservation status of grouse worldwide: an update. Wildlife Biology 13: 5-12.

Wolfe, D. H.; Patten, M. A.; Shochat, E.; Pruett, C. L.; Sherrod, S. K. 2007. Causes and patterns of mortality in lesser prairie-chickens Tympanuchus pallidicinctus and implications for management. Wildlife Biology 13: 95-104.

Further web sources of information
Audubon WatchList

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Derhé, M., Keane, A., Wege, D.

Applegate, R., Beauprez, G., Davis, D., Hagen, C., Odell, E., Rodgers, R., Schoeling, D., Whitlaw, H.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Tympanuchus pallidicinctus. Downloaded from on 22/07/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/07/2014.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Phasianidae (Grouse, pheasants and partridges)
Species name author (Ridgway, 1873)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 63,300 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species