Greater prairie chicken
|Greater prairie chicken|
|Subspecies|| T. c. attwateri|
T. c. cupido
T. c. pinnatus
The greater prairie chicken is named appropriately; it is chicken-like in appearance. It is about 16 inches long and weigh 24-42 ounces. The color overall is a light brown, with dark barring on the feathers throughout. Males have long feathers on either side of the head which, when raised in display during the breeding season, give the appearance of having "ears"; males further display an inflatable orange-colored sack on either side of the neck, which they use to amplify their breeding calls.
There are three recognized subspecies of greater prairie chicken:
- Attwater's prairie chicken, Tympanuchus cupido attwateri
- Slightly smaller, darker form of the greater prairie chicken, this bird is localized to the Texas and Louisiana coastal prairies.
- Greater prairie chicken, Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus
- Largest subspecies; found in scattered areas of the Great Plains, from southern Canada to Oklahoma, westward to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
- Heath hen, Tympanuchus cupido cupido (extinct, 1932)
Both drought and spring rains are threats to established nesting colonies of prairie chickens, as they can affect the lives of chicks. The greatest threat has come from man, either through hunting (prairie chickens are classified as game birds) of development of wild prairie land into agricultural or settlement areas. As a result, prairie chickens - once extensive across the Great Plains east to Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, are now restricted in small areas from North Dakota south to Kansas. Human pressure contributed to the extinction of the eastern subspecies, the heath hen. Once found in the grassy areas of the east coast, the heath hen became extinct by 1932, the result of over-hunting and human development.
On May 19, 2014 it was reported that the State of Illinois had begun a project to fly in 50 males and 41 females from Kansas to revive the population of existing birds at the Prairie Ridge State Natural Area in Newton. The total cost of the project was estimated to be $455,000 of both Federal and state taxpayer dollars, or about $1,166 per bird. In 2014, Illinois was reported to be $6.7 billion in debt, with many seeing the prairie chicken transfer as an "egregious use of taxpayer dollars."