Photo: Greg W. Lasley/Vireo

Greater Prairie-Chicken

Tympanuchus cupido

At one time, the eerie hollow moaning of male prairie-chickens displaying on their spring "booming grounds" was a common sound across much of central and eastern North America. Today the prairie-chickens are quite uncommon and localized; the race on the Atlantic seaboard, called the Heath Hen, became extinct in 1932. Greater Prairie-Chickens still thrive on a few areas of native grassland in the midwest.
Conservation status Atlantic Coast race (Heath Hen) became extinct in 1932; Texas coast race (Attwater's) is seriously endangered. Loss of habitat is single greatest threat to remaining populations in interior.
Family Pheasants and Grouse
Habitat Native tall-grass prairie. Prime original habitat apparently was where prairie was intermixed with oak woodland. Currently found in areas of tall-grass prairie (especially native prairie, now a rare type), including places where such habitat is interspersed with agricultural fields.
At one time, the eerie hollow moaning of male prairie-chickens displaying on their spring "booming grounds" was a common sound across much of central and eastern North America. Today the prairie-chickens are quite uncommon and localized; the race on the Atlantic seaboard, called the Heath Hen, became extinct in 1932. Greater Prairie-Chickens still thrive on a few areas of native grassland in the midwest.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground, occasionally in trees. Most feeding in early morning and evening.


Eggs

Usually 10-12, sometimes 7-17. Olive to pale buff, speckled with dark brown. Incubation is by female only, 23-25 days. Young: Follow female away from nest shortly after hatching. Young find all their own food. Can make short flights at about 2 weeks, stronger flights at 3 weeks. Young usually remain with female for almost 3 months.


Young

Follow female away from nest shortly after hatching. Young find all their own food. Can make short flights at about 2 weeks, stronger flights at 3 weeks. Young usually remain with female for almost 3 months.

Diet

Mostly seeds, leaves, insects. Winter diet is mostly leaves and seeds, also waste grain in agricultural fields. Historically, may have eaten many acorns in winter, and still may do so where they are available. In summer eats a variety of leaves, buds, seeds, berries, and insects. Young birds eat more insects.


Nesting

In spring, males gather on "booming grounds" and display there to attract females. Booming ground often on low hill, with good visibility; typically 8-20 males present, exceptionally up to 70. In display, male lowers head and raises tail, inflates air sacs on neck, raises feather tufts, stamps feet rapidly while making hollow moaning sounds; may leap in the air with loud cackles. Female visits booming ground, mates with one of the males. Nest site is on ground, among thick tall grass. Nest (built by female) is shallow depression lined with grass, leaves, feathers.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Some individuals are permanent residents, others may move between breeding and wintering areas, traveling as much as 100 miles. No obvious or consistent differences in habitat between breeding and wintering sites.

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Migration

Some individuals are permanent residents, others may move between breeding and wintering areas, traveling as much as 100 miles. No obvious or consistent differences in habitat between breeding and wintering sites.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Hollow "booming" call during display; also cackles and clucks.
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