Greater Prairie Chicken
Meet the Greater Prairie Chicken
With its uniformly barred plumage, the greater prairie chicken is nearly identical to the lesser prairie chicken, though slightly darker and, aptly enough, larger. In summer, the bird feeds mostly on insects, seeds
Females typically lead hatchlings to shorter grass, also the scene of elaborate mating rituals in which males drum their feet in stylized dances and make a booming call that can be heard for over a mile. The open courtship areas are known as “leks” or “booming grounds,” and the courtship displays are the species’ most famous trait.
Protecting the Greater Prairie Chicken
The three subspecies of the greater prairie chicken have enjoyed radically different fates. The heath hen became extinct in 1932, Attwater’s prairie hen survives only in small portions of southeast Texas and is listed as Endangered in the US, and the greater prairie chicken, though threatened and isolated in much of its range, remains numerous enough to be hunted in four states.
Once inhabiting the wide plains of the central US in vast numbers, the bird has fared poorly as its grassland habitat has been converted to other uses.
Aside from habitat loss, the greater prairie chicken is also threatened by loss of genetic variance resulting from the isolation of populations with no natural corridors between groups. Most management focuses on habitat improvement, but population reintroduction may eventually be necessary to ensure genetic diversity. The largest remaining populations are in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
To help address habitat loss, The Nature Conservancy is restoring high-quality tallgrass prairie on the Great River Grasslands in Missouri. Here, TNC has a couple thousand acres, and we are working to aggressively restore it and convert land back to prairie using a diverse mix of locally produced seeds, as well as seeds harvested at Dunn Ranch Prairie.
TNC is also removing invasive woody vegetation and invasive species and purchasing lands bordering our high-quality prairies. The Conservancy puts conservation easements on these lands to ensure the area is only used for sustainable grazing, and the lands are put back on the open market.