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Attwater's Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus cupido attwateri


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Attwater's Prairie-Chicken
© George Levandoski/U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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

Description 17-18" (43-45.5 cm). Chicken-like ground bird with strong vertical bars of dark brown and buff-white in a zebralike pattern over the mantle, flanks, and underparts. Tail short, rounded, and dark brown, inconspicuously barred with buff in females. Male has elongated feathers, called pinnae, erected to form earlike structures, as well as a bright orange, deepening to red near the head, air sac on either side of neck, inflating during displays.

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 Prairie grasslands.

Range Gulf coast of Texas.

Voice During display male utters a far-carrying coo sound, "old muldoon," lasting about a second and distinctly 3-parted; also cackles and whines. Female usually silent.

Discussion During display, male erects earlike pinnae, engorges the yellow combs above the eyes, and inflates the bright orange to red neck sacs. This display occurs only on traditional display grounds, called leks, usually at dawn. The bird's takeoff is explosive, and in flight it exhibits white wing linings and a profile almost identical to that of the Sharp-tailed Grouse. Attwater's is isolated from other populations of Greater Prairie-Chickens, which occur much farther northward.