Living Bird Magazine
Greater Prairie-ChickenTympanuchus cupido
- ORDER: Galliformes
- FAMILY: Phasianidae
Few performances in the bird world are more memorable than the dawn display of Greater Prairie-Chickens at their booming ground, or lek—the traditional spot where males dance, call, and try to impress females with their vigor. When displaying, the males erect earlike plumes on the head and blow up bright orange air sacs on the neck, transforming themselves from brownish chickenlike birds into brightly colored performers, all the while drumming with their feet and producing whooping and cackling calls.More ID Info
Find This Bird
For most of the year, Greater Prairie-Chickens live inconspicuously in brushy areas of the Great Plains and prairies, where their plumages and habits keep them well concealed. The best place to see them is on their leks, but because of the sensitivity of these locales, it’s best to join an organized trip to a booming ground between late March and early May. Outings with bird clubs or tour groups are widely advertised. Participation requires a very early departure in order to be in place (usually in a blind) before dawn.
- Gallo de Las Praderas Grande (Spanish)
- Tétras des prairies (French)
- Cool Facts
- Some booming grounds or leks have been used for more than a century and are considered “ancestral,” whereas others, more recently established, are called “satellite” areas. When prairie-chicken populations are low, most males assemble at ancestral areas, but during periods of higher populations the satellite areas may contain many males (especially younger ones).
- Males’ territories within the booming ground appear to be oriented according to marks in the terrain such as depressions, drainages, fences, cow droppings, and wheel tracks. Modifying these features can result in males modifying the shapes of their territories.
- The extinct Heath Hen was a subspecies (cupido) of Greater Prairie-Chicken that inhabited the Eastern Seaboard from Maryland to Massachusetts in the colonial era. Excessive hunting of this bird led to restrictions as early as 1791, but even so declines continued. The last Heath Hen died on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in 1932.
- Greater Prairie-Chickens occasionally hybridize with Lesser Prairie-Chickens. Male hybrids produce a booming sound that is intermediate in frequency between the two species.