Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido)
Associated Species: Other species that may use habitat in a similar way and/or respond similarly
to threats, management, and conservation activities include Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper
Sparrow, and Western Meadowlark.
Distribution: Greater Prairie-Chickens reside from eastern North Dakota east to northern
Michigan, south to southeastern Texas, and west as far as northeastern Colorado, where they
inhabit only parts of Yuma, Washington, and Phillips counties, also Sedgwick, Logan, and
Morgan counties, where they were introduced. This species' expansion into Colorado in
historical times may have been facilitated by planting of grain: shortgrass prairie offers too few
seeds for an adequate winter food supply.
Habitat Requirements: They mainly reside in mixed-grass and tallgrass prairies, but they will
accept some agricultural land. Historically, the habitat included oak. In Colorado, this species
frequents areas with sand sagebrush. They nest in areas with dense vertical and horizontal grass
cover, where grass height averages 25 to 70 cm (10-28 in).
Ecology: Courtship activity on the leks begins in April, with young fledging by mid July.
Individuals migrate only a short distance for wintering (about 40 km; 25 mi). The diet includes
leaves, seeds, buds, and fruits from a variety of plants, also cultivated grains, and insects. They
will eat acorns where available.
Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: Insecticide use may limit
availability of insect prey, which is critical to chick survival. Postpone the use of insecticides until
after young have fledged.
Conversion of native grassland to intensive agriculture can reduce Greater Prairie-Chicken
populations due to direct (e.g., nest destruction by farm machinery) and indirect (loss of preferred
food sources) effects. Native and exotic grasslands provide more suitable habitat than
croplands; grasslands should be retained in the largest contiguous blocks possible, with the
65-ha (160-ac) minimum size recommended for southwestern Missouri birds (Ryan et al. 1998)
utilized in Colorado, unless future research suggests otherwise.
The exotic Ring-necked Pheasant competes directly with prairie-chickens, and sometimes
parasitizes their nests. Remove existing pheasant populations and introduce no additional
pheasants where management goals include protection of prairie-chicken populations.
Status and Reasons for Concern: This species has a high conservation need locally and
throughout its range. This is a USFS Sensitive Species in Region 2. Within the shortgrass
physiographic area, this species is not adequately monitored by BBS surveys, and data collected
during 1969-1996 are too sparse for meaningful analysis. Greater Prairie-Chickens were present
on an average of 4.69% (SE = 1.40) of BBS routes run in Physiographic Area 36 in Colorado
during 1988-1997, at an average abundance of 0.62 (SE = 0.30) individuals per route. The mean
number of routes run each year was 29.2 (SE = 2.28). CDOW surveys indicate that Colorado
populations are stable or increasing. This species is monitored by CDOW.
Biological Objective: Increase the species' distribution and abundance, based upon results from
the BBS and CDOW monitoring programs.
Selected References: Andrews and Righter 1992, Flickinger and Swineford 1983, Kingery 1998,
Prose 1985, Schroeder and Robb 1993, Van Sant and Braun 1990, Vance and Westemeier 1979.