Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Texas
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Texas Project

Winter ecology and habitat use of lesser prairie-chickens in west Texas.

September 2008 - August 2011


Participating Agencies

  • Texas Parks and Wildlife

The lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) has experienced declines in population and occupied range by >90% since the late 1800’s. The lesser prairie chicken has been listed as a candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act and is undergoing review for listing. Populations and the distribution of lesser prairie chickens in Texas are thought to be at or near all time lows. These factors have led to substantially increased concern for conservation of the species. It is apparent that sound management and conservation strategies for lesser prairie chickens are necessary to ensure the long-term persistence of the species. However, basic ecological information is required with which said strategies may be formulatied. Currently, there is a paucity of data on the wintering ecology of the species. We examined home range, habitat use, and survival of lesser prairie chickens during the winters of 2008-2009, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011 in sand-shinnery oak landscapes in west Texas. We captured and radio-tagged 53 adult lesser prairie-chickens. We obtained sufficient locations to estimate winter home range size for 23 individuals. Home range size did not differ between years or by sex. Although female prairie chickens had slightly larger home ranges (503.5 ± 34.9 ha) compared to (489.1 ± 34.9 ha), the differences were not significant (t2 = 0.05, P= 0.96). During the nonbreeding season, we found that 97.2 % of locations of both male and female prairie-chickens were within 3.2 km of the lek of capture. Most locations (96.8%) were within 1.7 km of a known lek and almost all locations (99.9%) were within 3.2 km of an available water source. Habitat cover types were not used proportional to occurrence within the home ranges, grassland dominated areas with sand-shinnery was used more than available, and sand-sage dominated with grassland, and sand-sage dominated with bare ground were both used less than available. Survival rates during the first two years of the study (0.846 ± 0.141; 0.827 ± 0.092) were among the highest ever reported for the species during the non-breeding season. Survival was markedly decreased in the third year (0.572 ± 0.136) and resulted in an overall 3 non-breeding season average of 0.721 (± 0.0763). This is still among the highest survival rates reported for the species; it does not appear winter season mortality is a strong limiting factor in lesser prairie-chicken persistence in the study area.

Technical Publications Publication Date
Boal, C.W., and Pirius, N.E., 2012, Winter ecology and habitat use of lesser prairie-chickens in west Texas, 2008–11: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1073, 9 p. May 2012