Tympanuchus cupido (Linnaeus, 1758)
Basis for Listing
The Greater Prairie-Chicken was formerly a common resident throughout the northern Great Plains, and its range extended east as far as Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The species has been extirpated from several states in the eastern portion of its range, but small remnant populations still occur in other states where appropriate grassland habitat is available. Today, the primary range of the Greater Prairie-Chicken is confined to portions of the prairie states of Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.
The Greater Prairie-Chicken is a brown, chicken-sized bird with a heavily barred feather pattern. Its tail is relatively short, dark, and rounded in appearance. The species is well known for the male's conspicuous courtship display on its breeding grounds. As the male booms (dances), dark, elongated feathers become erect behind his head, and a bare orange patch above the eyes engorges. Yellow-orange air sacs on the sides of the males' neck also inflate, amplifying their characteristic booming sound.
The Greater Prairie-Chicken's preferred habitat changes with the seasons. During the spring breeding season, several different habitats are utilized. Open expanses of short cover are used for courtship activity, while dense, undisturbed cover, approximately 30-38 cm (12-15 in.) high is used for nesting. Cropland and burned habitats are used for feeding and loafing. During the summer, the Greater Prairie-Chicken favors open habitats, including native prairie and grasslands that have been disturbed by burning, grazing, or haying. In fall and winter, croplands, grass and forb habitats, and disturbed areas that provide winter food are most important. Low areas with dense vegetation are preferred for roosting cover year-round, and snow is used for burrowing when available.
Biology / Life History
The Greater Prairie-Chicken may be a year-round resident or may migrate short distances between breeding and wintering grounds (12-170 km; 7.5-106 mi.). Females are more likely to migrate than males. Greater Prairie-Chickens are highly social in all seasons, with mixed flocks in winter and segregated flocks during breeding. They show high fidelity to breeding, nesting, and wintering sites (Schroeder and Robb 1993). In spring, males form groups in open courtship areas known as leks or booming grounds. Each male maintains a small territory on the lek, and returns to the same lek each year. During courtship, males leap, flap, drum their feet, strut, and make a low-frequency booming vocalization to attract females. A female displays to a potential mate by dropping her wings and squatting. Mating occurs on the lek, after which hens leave to nest. A hen builds her nest in thick vegetation, creating a depression in the substrate and lining it with dried vegetation and feathers. The female incubates, broods, and rears the young without assistance from the male (Schroeder and Robb 1993). Females lay an average clutch of 12 eggs starting about 4 days after mating. The eggs are smooth, slightly glossy, olive-buff or gray-olive in color, and finely speckled. Incubation lasts about 25 days. Emerging chicks are precocial, and leave the nest to feed with the hen soon after hatching. Chicks are able to fly well at 3 weeks old. Broods disperse after 80-84 days, but young may still flock together (Schroeder and Robb 1993). Females only raise 1 brood per season. Hatching success is very high (73-93%), but nest success is lower (22-65%). Mortality rates also increase after hatching. Studies have found highest success for nests within dense vegetation and in areas of low predator density. Nesting success was also correlated with greater distance from leks, and lower density of prairie-chicken nests (Schroeder and Robb 1993).
Conservation / Management
Lack of appropriate habitat is the greatest threat to Greater Prairie-Chicken populations. Large, nearly treeless landscapes are needed and in Minnesota, the greater prairie-chicken uses a mixture of native prairie, non-native grasslands, and disturbed habitats. Where these occur in the right proportions and configuration, populations are stable and, in recent years, even expanding. In many areas, however, grassland acreage continues to be converted to cropland or to forest land through either planting or natural succession. As grassland acreage is reduced, so are greater prairie-chicken numbers.
Conservation Efforts in Minnesota
The Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society conducted annual Greater Prairie-Chicken counts from 1974-2003 (Larson 2005). In the spring of 1982, members counted 1,648 males on 146 booming grounds in 14 counties, compared with 841 birds on 74 booming grounds in 11 counties in 1978 (Natural Heritage Information System 2008). Some of this increase was probably a result of greater survey effort. In 2001, 1,309 males were counted on 136 booming grounds. However, 61% of these booming grounds contained 10 or fewer males.
Opportunities to observe the Greater Prairie-chicken’s spring courtship display are available at several locations in Minnesota and North Dakota. Viewing structures (called “blinds”) may be reserved for use during the late-April/early-May display season.
References and Additional Information
Larson, M. 2005. Spring 2005 Prairie-Chicken survey in Minnesota. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Grand Rapids, Minnesota. 5 pp.
Larson, M. 2007. Grouse surveys in Minnesota during spring 2007. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Grand Rapids, Minnesota. 18 pp.
Natural Heritage Information System, Division of Ecological Resources, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. November 6, 2008. Prairie Chicken Historical Database. St. Paul, Minnesota.
Partch, M. C. 1973. A history of Minnesota's Prairie Chickens. Pages 15-29 in W. D. Svedarsky and T. J. Wolfe, editors. The Prairie Chicken in Minnesota. University of Minnesota, Crookston, Minnesota.
Rodgers, R. D. 2005. Conservation Reserve Program successes, failures, and management needs for open-land birds. Pages 129-134 in A. W. Allen and M. W. Vandever, editors. The Conservation Reserve Program - planting for the future: proceedings of a national conference. United States Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Scientific Investigation Report 2005-5145. 248 pp.
Rodgers, R. D., and R. W. Hoffman. 2005. Prairie Grouse population response to Conservation Reserve Program grasslands: an overview. Pages 120-128 in A. W. Allen and M. W. Vandever, editors. The Conservation Reserve Program - planting for the future: proceedings of a national conference. United States Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Scientific Investigation Report 2005-5145. 248 pp.
Rosenquist, E. L. 1996. Winter aspects of Prairie Chicken ecology in northwest Minnesota. Thesis, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minnesota. 72 pp.
Schroeder, M. A., and L. A. Robb. 1993. Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido). Number 36 in A. Poole and F. Gill, editors. The birds of North America. The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Svedarsky, W. D., T. J. Wolfe, and J. E. Toepfer. 1997. The Greater Prairie-Chicken in Minnesota. Minnesota Wildlife Report 11. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St. Paul, Minnesota. 19 pp.
Toepfer, J. E. 1994. Reintroduction of Greater Prairie-Chickens into the Kelly's Slough, North Dakota, 1992-1994. Progress Report submitted to North Dakota Game and Fish and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 29 pp.
Toepfer, J. E. 2003. Prairie Chickens and grasslands: 2000 and beyond. A report to the council of chiefs. Society of Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus, Ltd. Elm Grove, Wisconsin. 69 pp.