Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido)

Greater Prairie Chicken

[order] GALLIFORMES | [family] Phasianidae | [latin] Tympanuchus cupido | [UK] Greater Prairie Chicken | [FR] Tetras des prairies | [DE] Prariehuhn | [ES] Gallo de las Praderas Mayor | [NL] Prairiehoen


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Lagopus cupido
Tympanuchus cupido NA sc Canada to Texas
Tympanuchus cupido attwateri se Texas (USA)
Tympanuchus cupido cupido? formerly e USA from Maine to Virginia
Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus sc Canada to ne Texas (USA)

Physical charateristics

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

wingspan min.: 66 cm wingspan max.: 74 cm
size min.: 40 cm size max.: 45 cm
incubation min.: 23 days incubation max.: 24 days
fledging min.: 85 days fledging max.: 95 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 9  
      eggs max.: 15  


North America : Southcentral Canada to Texas. Tympanuchus cupido is restricted to prairie intermixed with cropland, primarily in the mid-western states of the USA.


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. 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.


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 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.
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.

Feeding habits

Greater prairie-chickens are primarily herbivorous, consuming the fruits, seeds, flowers, shoots, and leaves of a variety of plants. Grasses, sedges, rushes, forbs, and some shrubs account for the wild vegetation they consume. During the winter months, however, these food resources become scarce, and greater prairie-chickens rely heavily on waste crops such as corn, soybeans, sunflowers, wheat, and other grains, where available. Acorns, buds, and seeds from grasses and forbs also contribute to the winter food supply. In the summer, insects provide a significant source of nourishment for all greater prairie-chickens, but they are particularly important to juveniles throughout the brood period. High insect numbers have been linked to the presence of native forbs and legumes such as alfalfa and sweetclover, also consumed by both juveniles and adults.


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.
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). 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, with the largest remaining populations in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota2. It has been in long-term decline for the last 80 years, with recent figures suggesting a steep population decline in the period 1989-1997. 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
Greater Prairie Chicken status Vulnerable


Canadian prairies (where it is now extirpated, or nearly so) to coastal Texas. Migration: Some individuals are permanent residents, others may move between breeding and w
intering areas, traveling as much as 100 miles. No obvious or consistent differences in habitat between breeding and wintering sites.

Distribution map

Greater Prairie Chicken distribution range map

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