Attwater's prairie chicken

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Attwater's prairie chicken
Attwater's Prairie Chicken.jpg
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 have strong vertical bars of dark brown and buff-white pattern over the mantle, flanks, and underparts. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with the males having elongated feathers, called pinnae, erected to form what looks like earlike structures. The male also has as a bright orange or golden 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, populations exist in the wild at two locations: the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge near Eagle Lake, Texas, and on private lands in Goliad County.[6]


The mating display can be seen January through mid-May, peaking in mid-March, when the birds gather in small groups on short grass, bare ground, 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 neck sac and struts around to attract a female. Some of the traditional dances of the North American Plains Indians 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 grass shoots, petals of flowers, seeds, and insects such as grasshoppers. Their predators include hawks, owls, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, Virginia opossums, and snakes. Chicks are susceptible to flooding.


In 1900, up to one million Attwater's prairie chickens graced the coastal grasslands.[4] Loss of habitat is believed to be the prime reason for their downfall. One of the major factors contributing to the habitat loss was the widespread planting, beginning in the early 1900s, of Chinese Tallow Trees (Triadica sebifera) to establish soap making industries.[7] Since that time T. sebifera has proven itself to be an aggressive invader of the coastal grasslands where it displaces the diverse native plant assemblage that was dominated by prairie grasses and forbs with dense near monospecific stands, that significantly alter biotic and abiotic ecosystem processes.[8] Urbanization further contributes to habitat loss. As a result of these changes over the last 100 years the entire grassland ecosystem where Attwaters's prairie chicken once thrived exists in small scattered patches whose continued existence is threatened. Where once grazing Plains Bison and periodic wildfires due to lightning reduced brush, 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 2014, it was estimated that only 260 remained, with about 100 living in the wild. Captive breeding programs are underway at places such as Fossil Rim Wildlife Center,[9] Abilene Zoo, and Caldwell Zoo (Tyler, TX). Through a partnership with the Houston Zoo,[10] there is a captive breeding flock 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. ^ Flack, S. & E. Furlow. 1996. America's least wanted "purple plague," "green cancer" and 10 other ruthless environmental thugs. Nature Conservancy Magazine. Vol. 46, No. 6 November/December.
  8. ^ Bruce, K. A., G. N. Cameron, & P. A. Harcombe. 1995. Initiation of a new woodland type on the Texas coastal prairie by the Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum (L.) Roxb.). Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 122:215-225.
  9. ^ "Animal Conservation". Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Retrieved 2010-11-24. 
  10. ^ "Attwater's Prairie Chicken Recovery Program". Houston Zoo. Archived from the original on 22 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-06. 

External links[edit]