Land Bird Conservation Plan Colorado  

Overview of Colorado
Physiographic Region 36

  • Grasslands
  • Lowland Riparian
  • Shore/Bank
  • Wetlands

  • Physiographic Region 62
    Physiographic Region 87
    Implementation Strategies
    Literature Cited

    Physiographic Region 36: Central Shortgrass Prairie

    Lesser Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)

    Associated Species: Other species that may use habitat in a similar way and/or respond similarly to threats, management, and conservation activities include Cassin's Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Lark Bunting, and Western Meadowlark.

    Distribution: Lesser Prairie-Chickens reside from southeastern Colorado east to southwestern Kansas south of the Arkansas River, south through western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, and west to southeastern New Mexico. Within Colorado, they occupy the grassland habitat type, primarily in Baca County, with some birds residing in Kiowa and Prowers counties.

    Habitat Requirements: Lesser Prairie-Chickens prefer grasslands with some shrubs; they will also use CRP land. Vegetation found in a suitable habitat includes sand sagebrush and shinnery oak with bluestem (historically) or mixed grass, including sand dropseed, side-oats grama, three-awn, blue grama, or bluestem. Leks are located in areas of sparse vegetation, typically on knolls or ridges. The birds usually nest within 3 km (2 mi) of the lek, usually in grasses and forbs of comparatively high density and height, often on north- or northeast-facing slopes (<6% slope), presumably for protection from sunlight. Taller, woody vegetation provides shade for nests and for adults and broods in summer.

    Ecology: Lesser Prairie-Chickens do not migrate; males visit leks from January to June and from September to November; females visit leks from late March through May. They initiate nesting during mid April through late May; hatching occurs about 25 days later, and the precocial young leaving the nest within 24 hours of hatching. They feed on invertebrates (especially grasshoppers and leafhoppers), leaves, flowers, seeds (especially shinnery oak acorns, where available), and cultivated grains.

    Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: The historical distribution has declined by an estimated 78% between 1963 and 1980 due to droughts, habitat conversion to cropland (including chemical and other control of sand sagebrush and shinnery oak), and overgrazing. So far, efforts to transplant birds have not succeeded. Protect and restore sand sagebrush and shinnery oak habitats within the species' historical range. Continue attempts to transplant birds to areas with suitable habitat.

    Status and Reasons for Concern: This species has a high conservation need locally and throughout its range. A petition has been filed for listing it under the Endangered Species Act. This is a USFS Sensitive Species in Region 2. Over its entire known historical range, the population has declined an estimated 97% since the 1800s. This species is not monitored by the BBS. Surveys by CDOW show a substantial increase in the Colorado population between 1970 and 1990; however, the total population is still perilously low. This species is monitored by CDOW.

    Biological Objective: Maintain or increase the species' distribution and abundance, based upon results of CDOW monitoring.

    Selected References: Andrews and Righter 1992; Giesen 1994a,b, 1998; Kingery 1998; Taylor and Guthery 1980.

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