Greater Prairie-Chicken

Tympanuchus cupido

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Photo of a male greater prairie-chicken in courtship display
With their numbers dwindling, greater prairie-chickens need strong conservation support.
Endangered
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Phasianidae (pheasants) in the order Galliformes

Description

Adult greater prairie-chickens are barred with brown, tan, and rust colors throughout and are similar in size to a small domestic chicken. The tail is short and rounded at the tip. There are tufts of long feathers on the sides of the neck; these tufts are longer in males. Orange air sacs and eyebrows are conspicuous on males in the spring.

Size

Length: 17 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Photo of a male greater prairie-chicken
Greater Prairie-Chicken Male
Male greater prairie-chicken.

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Photo of female greater prairie-chicken
Greater Prairie-Chicken Female
Female greater prairie-chicken.

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Prairie Chickens
Prairie Chickens

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Prairie Chicken Hen
Prairie Chicken Hen

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Photo of a male northern harrier pursuing a greater prairie-chicken cock
Northern Harrier and Greater Prairie-Chicken
Northern harriers forage in open areas for rodents, birds, snakes, and insects.

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Photo of a male northern harrier pursuing a greater prairie-chicken hen
Northern Harrier and Greater Prairie-Chicken Hen
Northern harriers are nimble, graceful fliers that use their impressive agility to capture birds and other prey.

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Video of prairie chickens in the wild.

Greater Prairie Chicken

Male greater prairie chickens make haunting mating sounds, also known as "booming," on special areas called "leks."
Habitat and conservation

Missouri’s remaining prairie-chickens live on native prairies and in properly managed non-native grasslands. They require wide open sweeps of permanent, diverse grassland. Loss of suitable habitat is one of the largest reasons for this species’ decline. Without substantial increases in suitable habitat, the species, which once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in our state, will likely soon be extirpated. Prairie conservation is the key to their survival.

Foods

Prairie-chickens eat insects, forb seeds, and greens, as well as some grains. Broods use legume hayfields, soybean fields, and weedy pastures heavily during summer.

Map of prairie chicken distribution in MO.
Distribution in Missouri

Native prairie and some grasslands in the Osage Plains and Glaciated Plains; small numbers survive in isolated populations.

Status

Endangered within Missouri. Rare permanent resident. Non-game. Fewer than 500 birds remain in isolated populations in southwest, northwest, and north-central Missouri.

Life cycle

Breeding season lasts from March through May. Cocks visit booming grounds (leks), where they dance, call, and fight among themselves. Hens visit the lek and select the most fit mate; mating occurs on the lek during April. Nests are simple and hidden in grasses; clutches usually contain 12–13 eggs. Incubation lasts about 24 days. Chicks remain with the hen for 8–10 weeks before the brood breaks up. Brood survival is very low.

Human connections

The prairie-chicken was once a prized game bird in Missouri. Its colorful habits, however, keep it popular among wildlife enthusiasts. It is up to humans to preserve the prairie habitats that these magnificent birds require for survival.

Ecosystem connections

Prairie-chickens are indicators of healthy grassland ecosystems and are part of the unique, interconnected community of plants and animals in Missouri prairies. Management for prairie chickens helps many other species as well.