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
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
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.