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Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus cupido


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Greater Prairie-Chicken, displaying male
credit: GregTheBusker/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Phasianidae, Pheasants and Grouse view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Warm buffish gray overall with extensive dark barring, including on belly. When not displaying, note pale throat, dark stripe through eye, and dark elongated feathers on side of neck'the "hare's ears" feathers that are raised in display. ADULT FEMALE Similar to male, but paler with less distinct dark barring. JUVENILE Similar to adult female.

Dimensions Length: 16-18" (41-46 cm)

Endangered Status Attwater's Prairie-Chicken, a subspecies of the Greater Prairie-Chicken, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in Texas. Once found from the Atlantic Coast west to Wyoming, the Greater Prairie-Chicken has been exterminated from much of this vast range, thanks to the destruction of the undisturbed prairies on which it breeds. The East Coast subspecies, known as the Heath Hen, is extinct. Attwater's, the form inhabiting the prairies along the Texas Gulf coast, may follow its eastern relative into extinction in a few years. The Attwater National Wildlife Refuge, in Eagle Lake, Texas, has been established to protect this rare bird.

Habitat Local and generally uncommon. Restricted to native prairies, typically in wetter sites, with lusher grass growth, than Lesser prefers. Range and numbers have declined catastrophically over last 200 years due to hunting and prairie habitat destruction (for agriculture). Some pinnatus populations are stable at local level, but habitat degradation (e.g. by grazing farm animals) and fragmentation continue to pose threats, given species' essentially sedentary nature. Population of pinnatus exceeds 600,000; attwateri numbers around 60 at two sites in southeastern Texas.

Observation Tips Easiest to see in spring when males display at communal leks; typically these are on raised hillocks. At other times of year, leads a rather unobtrusive life.

Range Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes, Plains, Texas, New England

Voice All birds utter clucking calls. Displaying male's deep, far-carrying booming note recalls sound made by blowing across the top of empty bottle.

Discussion Plump-bodied bird. Male's rather understated plumage (for much of the time) is transformed in display by inflated orange neck sacs, yellow wattles above eyes, and raised head feathers that look almost like a hare's ears. In spring, birds gather at communal leks where males perform foot-stamping and booming displays, accompanied by tail fanning at start and end of performance. Comprises three subspecies: pinnatus is still widespread; attwateri (Attwater's Prairie-chicken) is close to extinction; cupido (Heath Hen) is now extinct. Following descriptions relate to pinnatus; attwateri is similar, but smaller and darker.