Mostly brown in color with horizontal barring and short, rounded tails, lesser prairie-chickens are about the size of a small domestic chicken. Males have red-purple air sacs on the sides of their necks that inflate during courtship displays in spring.
Range: Lesser prairie-chickens historically occupied the grasslands of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and southeastern Colorado.
Habitat: These birds prefer sandy grassland areas that have an abundance of mid-grasses, sandsage and yucca.
Diet: Green leafy vegetation and forbs seeds are part of lesser prairie-chicken diet year around. Grasshoppers and other insects provide an important part of the birds' food supply during the summer. In winter, their diet includes seeds, leaves, grain and milo from agriculture lands.
Reproduction: Like the grouse, lesser prairie-chickens are polygamous. Males attract females to the leks with elaborate dancing displays, showing off their red air sacs and yellow combs. Hens typically lay 12 eggs that hatch in 24 to 26 days.
Endangered status: Colorado listed the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species in 1973. Since the early 1990’s Colorado has experienced further declines. As with other prairie grouse species, there are multiple reasons. Factors include conversion of native prairie landscapes to agricultural uses and energy development, livestock grazing, shrub control and eradication, altered fire regimes, insecticides, fragmentation cause by roads and other linear features such as predation, disease, hybridization and competition from ring-necked pheasants. Many of Colorado's remaining birds are associated with Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grasslands in southeast Colorado - primarily on private lands in Prowers County. Small populations are found in sand sage habitat on private lands in Cheyenne County as well as the Comanche National Grasslands and surrounding private lands in Baca County.
A five-state conservation team is working to identify management actions that will conserve lesser prairie-chickens and their habitat over all of their currently-occupied range. For more information, see the Natural Diversity Information Source species profile.