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Lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) | ESA status: under review

Lesser prairie chicken

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), this species is smaller and has distinctive courtship displays and vocalizations.

Lesser prairie chicken courtship

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. Males may display their bright yellow eye combs, inflate their red air sacs, flutter-jump, cackle, and stamp their feet.

What are the threats to the lesser prairie chicken?

The lesser prairie chicken’s range has declined by more than 90 percent and its population is among the smallest of North American grouse, variously estimated between 10,000 to more than 50,000 birds (though 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 power lines and disturbance from roads, mining, and other activities also affect the birds.

What WildEarth Guardians is doing to preserve the lesser prairie chicken

This species was a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act for more than a decade. We sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to formally list it as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Act to support recovery of the species. We also successfully led a broad coalition to create a Bureau of Land Management “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” to protect key habitat for the birds on public land in New Mexico. In 2014, the species was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, but was then almost immediately delisted due to a court order. We submitted a new scientific petition to list the species in 2016 that incorporates the most recent science. We received a positive 90-day finding on that petition and are pushing the Fish and Wildlife Service to move forward in the listing process.

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