Attwater's prairie chicken

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Attwater's prairie chicken
Attwater's Prairie Chicken.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Subfamily: Tetraoninae
Genus: Tympanuchus
Species: T. cupido
Subspecies: T. c. attwateri
Trinomial name
Tympanuchus cupido attwateri
Bendire, 1893[2]

Attwater's prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri) is a highly endangered subspecies of the greater prairie chicken that is native to coastal Texas and Louisiana in the United States.[3]


The Attwater's prairie chicken measures 17-18 inches (43-45.5 cm) and weighs roughly 1.5 to 2 pounds (0.7 to 0.9 kg). It has a 28 inch (70 cm) wingspan. These grouse-like ground birds have strong vertical bars of dark brown and buff-white in a zebralike pattern over the mantle, flanks, and underparts. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with the males having elongated feathers, called pinnae, erected to form earlike structures. The male also has as a bright orange to reddish air sac on either side of his neck, which he inflates during mating displays.

Habitat and range[edit]

Tympanuchus cupido attwateri is endemic to the Western Gulf coastal grasslands. Its range historically stretched from Bayou Teche in Louisiana to the Nueces River in Texas,[4] possibly as far south as Tamaulipas, Mexico,[5] and inland for 75 mi (121 km). This covered an area of 6 million acres (24,000 km²).[4] Today, their sole refuges in the wild are the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge near Eagle Lake, Texas, and the Texas City Prairie Preserve near Texas City, which collectively have an area of 12,000 acres (49 km2) or 0.2% of its historic range.[6] However, since new oil/gas drilling was instituted by the Nature Conservancy at the Texas City Prairie Reserve, no prairie chickens remain [7]


The mating display can be seen December through April, peaking in mid-March, when the birds gather in small groups on short grass, bare ground, rock outcroppings or hilly areas in order to choose a mate. This area is called a lek or "booming ground." In these areas, the females watch the males and choose their mate. The male emits a booming, "woo-woo" sound from his throat sac and struts around to attract a female. Some of the traditional dances of the North American Plains Indians, notably those of the Lakota, are based on this booming display. Later, the hens build grass nests on the ground, hidden in tall grass, where they lay their eggs.

Diet and predation[edit]

This species has a diverse diet, eating leaves, seeds, and insects such as grasshoppers. Their predators include red-tailed hawks, owls, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, Virginia opossums, and snakes. Many young birds also die from causes such as flooding.


In 1900, one million Attwater's prairie chickens graced the coastal grasslands.[4] Loss of habitat is believed to be the prime reason for their downfall. In addition to loss due to urbanization, the entire grassland ecosystem where they once thrived no longer exists in the same form. Where once grazing Plains Bison and periodic wildfires due to lightning reduced ground cover, the birds now have difficulty making their way through thick undergrowth. It is possible that other less-apparent changes in the ecosystem have had an effect as well.

Attwater's prairie chicken has been on the endangered species list since March 1967.[1]

Prairie Chicken-Attwater's.JPG

In 1998 it was estimated that only 260 remained, with less than 60 living in the wild. A subspecies named the Katy Prairie chicken once dominated the Katy Prairie. It has been determined that the Katy Mills Mall was built on their main habitat, driving it extinct. Captive breeding programs are underway at places such as Fossil Rim Wildlife Center,[8] Seaworld of Texas, and the Houston Zoo.[9] There is also a small captive breeding colony residing on the grounds of the NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center near Clear Lake.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken". Society of Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus, Ltd. Retrieved 2010-11-24. 
  2. ^ "Tympanuchus cupido attwateri". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 2010-11-24. 
  3. ^ "Attwater's Prairie Chicken". Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  4. ^ a b c "Attwater's Prairie Chicken History of Species Decline Historic Populations". Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  5. ^ Silvy, Nova J.; Brown, Dennis L.; Labuda, Jr., Stephen E.; Teer, James G.; Williams, Dennis (1996). "Attwater's Prairie Chicken Recovery Plan" (PDF). United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 
  6. ^ "Attwater's Prairie Chicken History of Species Decline Current Range". Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  7. ^ Klein, Naomi. ""This Changes Everything". Simon & Schuster 2014, p 191-195.
  8. ^ "Animal Conservation". Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Retrieved 2010-11-24. 
  9. ^ "Attwater's Prairie Chicken Recovery Program". Houston Zoo. Archived from the original on 22 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-06. 

External links[edit]