Greater Prairie-chicken Tympanuchus cupido


Justification of Red List Category
This species has undergone rapid population declines, and it has already disappeared from many states in which it was formerly common. Consequently it is listed as Vulnerable.

Population justification
Rich et al. (2004) estimated the population size to number 700,000 individuals.

Trend justification
This species has undergone a large and statistically significant decrease over the last 40 years in North America (-91.3% decline over 40 years, equating to a -45.7% decline per decade; data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Butcher and Niven 2007). Westemeier and Gough (1999) suggested a decline equivalent to 54.8% per decade.

Distribution and population

Tympanuchus cupido is restricted to prairie intermixed with cropland, primarily in the mid-western states of the USA. The three recognised subspecies vary dramatically in status: the Heath Hen T. c. cupido is extinct, and the Attwater's Prairie Hen T. c. attwateri is restricted to small portions of south-east Texas (numbering under 1,000 in the mid-1990s [del Hoyo et al. 1994]) (Schroeder and Robb 1993). The Greater Prairie-chicken (T. c. pinnatus) is extinct or in danger of extinction in 15 states, but numerous enough to be legally hunted in four states (Schroeder and Robb 1993), with the largest remaining populations in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota (del Hoyo et al. 1994). It has been in long-term decline for the last 80 years (G. Butcher in litt.2003), with recent figures suggesting a steep population decline in the period 1989-1997 (Westemeier and Gough 1999).


Although once abundant in native prairie intermixed with oak Quercus spp. woodland, as prairie and woodland habitats were converted to cropland it had to adapt to agricultural habitats (Schroeder and Robb 1993, del Hoyo et al. 1994). Areas of native vegetation are still required for roosting and breeding, and for displaying males which usually select lek sites with short grass, usually on elevated ground. Most nest sites are in open, grassy habitats such as ungrazed meadows or hayfields (del Hoyo et al. 1994).


Loss of prairie habitat through conversion to cropland was primarily responsible for the extinction of T. c. cupido and declines in the other two subspecies. Grazing pressure from sheep and the increase in cropland throughout areas of native prairie is threatening the remaining population of T. c. attwateri in Texas. Habitat fragmentation leading to isolated populations and a loss of genetic variance and subsequent decreases in fertility will reduce fitness and reinforce negative demographic trends (Westemeier et al. 1998). In certain states hunting continues (Schroeder and Robb 1993). The species may suffer from competition with Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus (del Hoyo et al. 1994).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Most management effort has been directed toward improvement of habitat. Effective strategies have included manipulation of grazing pressure, control of burning, provision of thick vegetation for protective cover and establishment of reserves. Population reintroduction may be necessary to expand its distribution, particularly where there are no dispersal corridors between occupied and unoccupied habitats, but so far it has had mixed success (Schroeder and Robb 1993). Hunting legislation has frequently been used to protect populations, with mixed success - both T. c. cupido and attwateri were protected. Legislation has been more effective with T. c. pinnatus, perhaps because of its large and diverse distribution (Schroeder and Robb 1993). Removal of Ring-necked Pheasants Phasianus colchicus may reduce interspecific competition (del Hoyo et al. 1994).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to monitor population trends. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation within the species's range. Fence areas of habitat to remove grazing pressure from sheep, or reduce the number of grazing animals to maintain habitat. Strictly control hunting, and if survival is confirmed to be higher in unhunted populations consider banning hunting of the species. Retain/restore corridors of suitable habitat between populations to facilitate dispersal and reduce the stresses associated with a loss of genetic variation.


43 cm. Stocky, uniformly barred brown grouse. Almost entire brown plumage barred with paler stripes. Both sexes have obvious dark eye-stripe and pale throats. Both also show elongated pinnae (adapted neck feathers) - the males being especially long and erected over the head during display, at which time yellow air sacs in the neck and above the eye are inflated. Similar species Range does not overlap with Lesser Prairie-chicken which has a diagnostic reddish-purple neck sac. Hint Watch for displaying males at dawn from discrete distance at known leks.


Text account compilers
Bird, J., Harding, M., Wege, D. & Symes, A.

Butcher, G., Rosenberg, K. & Wells, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Tympanuchus cupido. Downloaded from on 29/03/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/03/2020.