Tympanuchus pallidicinctuslesser prairie chicken(Also: lesser prairie-chicken)

Geographic Range

Lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) occupy high plains regions of southeastern Colorado, western Kansas and Oklahoma, eastern New Mexico, and the Texas panhandle. Historically, the territory covered by lesser prairie-chickens was significantly larger. There is some ambiguity in identifying their exact ranges, as there was likely confusion by early settlers between the greater and lesser prairie-chickens. However, remains positively identified as lesser prairie-chickens have been reported as far west as Oregon. (Coomansingh, 2010; Sullivan, et al., 2000; Van Den Bussche, et al., 2003; Wolfe, et al., 2007)


Lesser prairie-chickens inhabit the high plains ecosystem. Their preferred habitats include shrubs, either shinnery oaks or sand sagebrushes, mixed alongside tall grasses, usually bluegrasses, and sandy soil. This foliage aggregation is necessary for concealment from aerial and terrestrial predators and shade during the summer. Additionally, the foliage provides sustenance for lesser prairie-chickens and the insects they feed on. During breeding periods, males form leks in areas that are less obscured by shrubs and taller grasses in order to maximize visibility for mating displays. (Coomansingh, 2010; Davis, 2009; Van Den Bussche, et al., 2003; Wolfe, et al., 2007; Woodward, et al., 2001)

  • Range elevation
    460 to 1525 m
    1509.19 to 5003.28 ft

Physical Description

Lesser prairie-chickens are rotund, neutrally colored ground-dwelling birds, weighing around 700 to 800 grams. They are usually between 38 and 41 centimeters in length, with a short tail. Lesser prairie-chickens display a range of camouflaging tints from grey to brown, paler in the breast, with heavy barring in the plumage. Males are distinguished by yellow eye combs accompanied by prominent pinnae (long decorative feathers) that become erect while displaying, and red esophageal air sacs on the neck. (Behney, et al., 2012; Coomansingh, 2010)

  • Range mass
    700 to 800 g
    24.67 to 28.19 oz
  • Range length
    38 to 41 cm
    14.96 to 16.14 in
  • Average wingspan
    63 cm
    24.80 in


Lesser prairie-chickens display classic lekking behavior. Males congregate in the spring and fall in areas with increased visibility and vie for position within the lek. Aggressive displays involve a semi-prone position, wings spread slightly from the sides, erect pinnae and tail, and inflated air sacs. Occasionally these displays may lead to actual fights. Dominant males tend to occupy the center of the lek and obtain a disproportionately high percentage of successful copulations. Once territories are established, displaying begins, occurring at sunrise and sunset. The cocks call out to the females, dance, and continue to make aggressive gestures towards other males. Females select males based on activity and vocal ability. (Behney, et al., 2012; Coomansingh, 2010; Davis, 2009; Holt, et al., 2010)

Lesser prairie-chickens breed in the springtime, although males display in lekking sites in the fall as well. This may be related to establishing lekking positions for the following spring. Male lesser prairie-chickens demonstrate territorial fidelity within leks over multiple mating seasons. Despite fragmentation of populations by land development, genetic diversity is maintained, even with a loss of approximately 97% of their historic population sizes. This genetic fluidity is likely maintained by females leaving the lekking ground where they were inseminated and seeking favorable nesting conditions near other lekking grounds. (Behney, et al., 2012; Coomansingh, 2010; Davis, 2009; Snyder, 1992; Van Den Bussche, et al., 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    Lesser prairie-chickens typically breed once yearly, but may make additional attempts if they are initially unsuccessful.
  • Breeding season
    Lesser prairie-chickens breed from April to May.
  • Range eggs per season
    8 to 14
  • Range time to hatching
    22 to 28 days
  • Average fledging age
    2 weeks
  • Range time to independence
    12 to 15 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

After mating, females leave the lek in search of a suitable nesting spot. Nesting areas are selected primarily based on horizontal and vertical coverage, and other attributes such as litter availability, and proximity to other lekking sites. Clutch sizes range from 6 to 14 eggs. The eggs are buff to cream colored, with fine speckling that can be olive to pale brown, sometimes including lavender markings. Eggs are incubated for approximately three weeks before hatching. Juveniles become independent at 12 to 15 weeks. Females that are unsuccessful with their first nest may attempt a second one in the same breeding season. Aside from being flamboyant showoffs, the males contribute very little beyond genetic material towards raising the next generation. (Behney, et al., 2012; Coomansingh, 2010; Hagen and Giesen, 2013; Holt, et al., 2010)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Lesser prairie-chickens do not generally have extended lifespans. As many as 65% of these birds expire in the first year alone, with only a small segment of the population reaching the estimated maximum lifespan of five years. The high mortality rate is influenced by predators and collisions with man-made obstacles such as fences and power lines. (Clapp, et al., 1982; Snyder, 1992; Wolfe, et al., 2007)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    13 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 to 5 years


Lesser prairie-chickens are non-migratory gallinaceous birds inhabiting the arid high plains of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. These ground dwelling birds use the native grasses and shrubs of this ecosystem for both food and cover year round. Lesser prairie-chickens require shrubs for protection in the nesting season and shading in the summer. In the winter months when temperatures become extreme, these birds will burrow in the snow for shelter. Their most notable habit occurs during the spring and fall when males gather in leks to display for females, using calls and dancing to attract them. In addition to these shows, males will make aggressive displays towards each other, establishing territories within the lek. Aggressive behaviors include ritual postures, short flights, pursuit of other males, and fighting. Dominant males and females are known to establish themselves amongst their own sex through the use of violence. (Behney, et al., 2012; Coomansingh, 2010; Davis, 2009; Hagen and Giesen, 2013; Wolfe, et al., 2007)

  • Range territory size
    2 to 5 km^2

Home Range

Home ranges for lesser prairie-chickens can reach 5 kilometers squared for males, while females can occupy up to 2.3 kilometers squared. Fragmentation of native habitats by farming and man-made structures has put considerable stress on the ranges of these birds. (Snyder, 1992)

Communication and Perception

While lekking, males use visual cues to attract mates, erecting their pinnae, flaring eye combs, and inflating esophageal sacs, all while taking aggressive stances towards other cocks. They also entice females with auditory signals. Lesser prairie-chickens utilize visual and auditory perception to interpret their surroundings. (Behney, et al., 2012; Coomansingh, 2010)

Food Habits

Lesser prairie-chickens feed on insects like grasshoppers and beetles, and also consume the greenery and seeds of the many grasses and shrubs in their ecosystem. Dependence on each food type varies throughout the year, based on availability. Lesser prairie-chickens gather in flocks during the fall and winter, relying on row grains and acorn masts for foraging. (Coomansingh, 2010)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Raptors like red-tailed hawks and mammals such as coyotes, bobcats, foxes and skunks are the primary predators of lesser prairie-chickens. Developed areas can increase predation, as terrestrial predators follow fences and roads, and fences and power lines provide additional roosting places for aerial predators. Lesser prairie-chickens rely on camouflage for protection and hide among shrubs and tall grasses for cover. They will studiously avoid tall structures, as these can be roosts for raptors. (Davis, 2009; Wolfe, et al., 2007)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

This species forages heavily on insects, keeping their numbers in check. Lesser prairie-chickens also support several predator species. Ring-necked pheasants have been observed parasitizing nests and interrupting leks. Nests have also been observed to contain quail eggs. Lesser prairie-chickens may also host several parasite species. (Coomansingh, 2010; Davis, 2009; Hagen and Giesen, 2013; Holt, et al., 2010)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus)
  • eye worms (Oxyspirura petrowi)
  • nematodes (Tetrameres)
  • nematodes (Subulura)
  • parasitic protozoa (Plasmodium pedioecetti)
  • Apicomplexa (Eimeria tympanuchi)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Lesser prairie-chickens are an important source of tourism for communities in and around their range. Their highly visible courtship displays attract bird enthusiasts and artists. Hunters also travel to these regions, attracted by the unusual and colorful trappings of the males. (Coomansingh, 2010)

  • Positive Impacts
  • ecotourism
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Because these birds avoid tall structures, even at the cost of lost breeding grounds, energy industries like oil and wind stand to lose access to profitable minerals and other natural resources that are in areas occupied by lesser prairie-chickens. (Snyder, 1992; Woodward, et al., 2001)

Conservation Status

Lesser prairie-chickens are considered vulnerable and benefit from management programs at the state level. Populations in Kansas are considered fairly stable, while in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico they continue to decline. Sport hunting is still permitted in regions of Kansas, but not in other states. Fence and power line markers are utilized in some areas to reduce the number of collision related fatalities. (Coomansingh, 2010; Snyder, 1992; Sullivan, et al., 2000; Van Den Bussche, et al., 2003; Wolfe, et al., 2007)


Jeremiah Muldowney (author), University of Wyoming, Hayley Lanier (editor), University of Wyoming - Casper, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

World Map

Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


having more than one female as a mate at one time


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


The term is used in the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V), Rare (R), Indeterminate (I), or Insufficiently Known (K) and in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU).

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Behney, A., B. Grisham, C. Boal, H. Whitlaw, D. Haukos. 2012. Sexual selection and mating chronology of Lesser Prairie-Chickens. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124: 96-105.

Clapp, R., M. Klimkiewicz, J. Kennard. 1982. Longevity records of North American birds: Gaviidae through Alcidae. Journal of Field Ornithology, 53/2: 81-124.

Coomansingh, J. 2010. Resource characteristics of the Lesser Prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) and its survival on the High Plains of the United States. Prairie Perspectives: Geographical Essays, 13: 49-57.

Davis, D. 2009. Nesting ecology and reproductive success of Lesser Prairie-Chickens in shinnery oak-dominated rangelands. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 121: 322-327.

Hagen, C., K. Giesen. 2013. "Lesser Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)" (On-line). The Birds of North America Online. Accessed December 13, 2013 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/364.

Holt, D., M. Butler, W. Ballard, C. Kukal, H. Whitlaw. 2010. Disturbance of lekking Lesser Prairie-Chickens (Tympanachus pallidicinctus) by Ring-Necked Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus). Western North American Naturalist, 70: 241-244.

Robel, R., T. Walker, C. Hagen, R. Ridley, K. Kemp, R. Applegate. 2003. Helminth parasites of lesser prairie-chicken Tympanuchus pallidicinctus in southwestern Kansas: incidence, burdens and effects. Wildlife Biology, 9/4: 341-349.

Snyder, S. 1992. "Tympanuchus cupido, T. pallidicinctus" (On-line). Fire Effects Information System. Accessed November 28, 2013 at http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/bird/tymp/introductory.html.

Sullivan, R., J. Hughs, J. Lionberger. 2000. Review of the historical and present status of the Lesser Prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) in Texas. The Prairie Naturalist, 32: 177-188.

Van Den Bussche, R., S. Hoofer, D. Wiedenfeld, D. Wolfe, S. Sherrod. 2003. Genetic variation within and among fragmented populations of Lesser Prairie-Chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). Molecular Ecology, 12: 675-683.

Wolfe, D., M. Patten, E. Shochat, C. Pruett, S. Sherrod. 2007. Causes and patterns of mortality in Lesser Prairie-Chickens Tympanuchus pallidicinctus and implications for management. Wildlife Biology, 13: 95-104.

Woodward, A., S. Fuhlendorf, D. Leslie Jr., J. Shackford. 2001. Influence of landscape composition and change on lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) populations. American Midland Naturalist, 145/2: 261-274.