Greater Prairie Chicken

photo by NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Tympanuchus cupido
L 17″ (43 cm)

Song or calls:
Courting males, deep “oo-loo-woo” called

Description: A stocky, brown grouse, considered a large “chicken-like” bird.  It is heavily barred with paler stripes above and grayish brown below. Has a short tail. The male has yellow-orange air sacs inflated during courtship display, and long feathers on sides of the neck that errect into “horns” during courtship; females have “horns” but they are shorter. Both male and female have obvious dark eye-stripe and pale throats. When in flight, the wings are rounded and the flight is swift with a series of rapidly beating wings.

Behavior: Multiple males display for females at a group display site, called a lek. They perform striking courtship dances where they strut about and stamp their feet, with “horns” erect and yellow-orange sacs of skin inflated on the sides of the neck, meanwhile uttering a deep cooing call referred to as “booming” that may be heard a mile away. They leap and whirl in the air, and threaten each other by short runs with tail raised, head down, and horns erect.

food: Leaves, seeds, buds, cultivated grains, fruits, and insects.
Greater Prairie Chicken probability map
Habitiat: Greater Prairie-Chickens require undisturbed prairie, preferring open sweeps of permanent high grass and minimal brush and trees. It uses vegetation 10-18 inches in height for roosting and nesting.  Hens avoid nesting or rearing their broods within a quarter-mile of powerlines and within a third-mile of improved roads.  In eastern Nebraska, the Greater Prairie-Chicken is heavily dependent on CRP grasslands.

Where in Nebraska: The Sandhills are the heart of Greater Prairie-Chicken range.  Numerous outfitters and nature centers now offer viewing trips during the spring lekking season.  Once found throughout the tallgrass region, Greater Prairie-Chicken populations have been reduced by habitat fragmentation in eastern Nebraska. (Click the map to expand.)

conservation status: G4: globally apparently secure; S3-S4: state vulnerable to apparently secure; NBP Priority Species, NNLP Tier 1 Populations are probably declining throughout the Plains states. Greater Prairie Chicken is a Nebraska Bird Partnership priority species for conservation.

Fun Facts: Greater Prairie-chickens use a lek-mating system, where the males defend and dance on a territory that holds no valuable resources to attract females.


Greater Prairie Chicken Booming – from Ohio Digital Resource Commons

Watch the Greater Prairie Chicken Courtship Dance – from the Macaulay Library

Greater Prairie Chicken - NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Park Greater Prairie Chicken - NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Park female Greater Prairie Chicken - NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Park
(click image for larger view)