Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Tympanuchus pallidicinctus

  • Version: 2.0 — Published October 1, 2005
  • Christian A. Hagen and Kenneth M. Giesen

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, past and present.

Figure 1. Presumed historical and current distributions of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken in North America.

Adult male Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Gobbling Display; Kansas, May

Note erected tail and pinnae. Gobbling Displays function to defend territories from neighboring males, to advertise territory location to hens and encourage them to copulate, and to help provide a phenotypic cue of the vigor or fitness of individual males.  See Behavior/agonistic for a detailed discussion.

Adult female Lesser Prairie-Chicken; Colorado, April

Baca Co., CO; April; photographer Marc Dantzker

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken has one of the smallest population sizes and most restricted distributions of North American grouse, second only to Gunnison Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus minimus). Historically a popular game species in several states, it has not been studied as intensively as have other more common and widely distributed North American gallinaceous game birds. Much of what is known about the nesting biology and seasonal habitat preferences of this species has been learned through a series of short-term graduate research projects undertaken in the last 30 years. Conservation concern for this species initiated a number of intensive studies from universities and state agencies in recent years. Specific information on energetics, nutritional needs, and population and meta-population responses to habitat changes, including fragmentation, are not well understood. Declining populations and spectacular breeding displays have attracted the attention of biologists and bird-watchers to this species in recent years.

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken inhabits rangelands dominated primarily by shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) or sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia) in 5 states within the southern Great Plains. Its distribution and population size have been reduced by the activities of humans, even though it occurs in areas with low human population densities. Recurrent droughts, combined with excessive grazing of rangelands by livestock and conversion of native rangelands to cropland, have significantly reduced populations and the distribution of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken since the early 1900s. This species is located and observed most easily in spring when males gather on traditional arenas (commonly called leks or gobbling grounds) to display and mate with females. Although generally comparable in morphology, plumage, and behavior to the partially sympatric Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido), the Lesser Prairie-Chicken is smaller, its courtship displays and vocalizations are distinctive, and it typically occupies midgrass rangelands associated with sandy soils rather than native tallgrass prairies interspersed with agricultural habitats.

Recommended Citation

Hagen, C. A. and K. M. Giesen (2005). Lesser Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.364