Greater Prairie Chickens
Greater Prairie Chicken
The Greater Prairie Chicken is a type of grouse, with light brown feathers sprinkled with darker brown speckles. These colors are used as camouflage. GPCs weigh between 25-42 ounces and can be up to 19 inches long. They used to live mostly in places where prairie and woods mixed, but now usually just live in native tallgrass prairie. GPCs are found in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, and parts of Colorado, but now, only in specific places. They often feed in the morning and the evening, usually on the ground, but occasionally in trees. They usually eat seeds, leaves, and insects, and sometimes, especially in the winter, acorns. Booming Grounds are places where male Greater Prairie Chickens display their feathers and attract female GPCs. This usually happens in the spring, on a hill so that they are clearly visible. Males have several unique features that help them attract female GPCs, including flashy neck feathers called pinnae, which can be raised, yellow eye combs that enlarge, and a gular air sack that turns orangish during the breeding season. The gular sack is used to make a large booming noise, which the booming grounds are named for.
Why Are They Endangered?
The main reason Greater Prairie Chickens are endangered is habitat loss. Another reason GPC’s are endangered are spring heatwaves, which often badly affect the baby nesting GPCs. Prairie chickens used to be found all over the grasslands, but now they are quite rare and are only found in certain areas. One type of GPC, the Heath Hen, is extinct. One threat to GPC’s habitat is wildfires. While the occasional forest fire is normal, if the prairies are repeatedly burned from them it can make it hard for them to recover. Although wildfires are part of the problems facing GPC’s habitat, the main reason for habitat loss is human farming and development. The grasslands where greater prairie chickens live is being converted to pastures for animals and row crops. Other grasslands are destroyed by roads, power development, and other signs of urbanization. Residual grass, grasses that are leftover from previous years, are very important to GPCs. It is used as a cover for nests, and as a protective shelter from predators. Human development and wildfires deplete how much residual grass is there, which is bad for the GPC’s population.
Wildfires and human development don’t only affect greater prairie chickens, it also affects many other animals who live on the prairie. Prairies are an amazing ecosystem home to many fascinating animals, and we need to work to conserve it. When we help conserve the greater prairie chicken’s environment, we are not only helping the GPC, but also many of the other unique animals who live in grasslands and prairies. Each animal in the prairie and every other ecosystem depends on other animals and species to survive. That's why we need to help the Greater Prairie Chicken, and other endangered species.
What Can You Do?
You can raise money and donate to the World Wildlife Fund or other organizations dedicated to protecting and conserving habitats and animals. You can also raise awareness about how habitat loss is affecting prairie animals. Many endangered animals do not get the attention they deserve because they are not talked about as much as others, like the giant panda. Though pandas deserve our help, so do other, less-talked-about, endangered species, like pangolins or Greater Prairie Chickens. You can help spread the word about GPCs, which will hopefully get more people involved in helping them.
"Greater Prairie-Chicken." Audubon, www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/greater-prairie-chicken. Accessed 13 May 2020.
“Lesser Prairie Chicken." Audubon, www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/lesser-prairie-chicken. Accessed 13 May 2020.
Elmore, Dwayne, et al. "Distinguishing between Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken." Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Oklahoma State University, pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-8624/L-421.pdf. Accessed 13 May 2020.
*all pictures used with permission, and/or taken from the sites above.