Attwater Prairie Chicken

28AttwaterPrairieChicke-Caseygirard

About Them: While called a chicken these are actually a grouse. They are striking birds that may at first look like a chicken until you see a male doing a full display. They are like birds of paradise in how much they have to put on a show to get a female to chose them for breeding. The males have orange orbs that inflate on either side of their neck and crest feathers that pop up like rabbit ears when they display. They also have similar wing and tail display to other game birds, both fanned out. Here is a video of them in action. They lay eggs in April and May finished before Hurricane season. The chickens feed on the native insects that roam the native grasses that make up the prairie.

Their plight: They have reached such low numbers and in recent years have received hit after hit from storms, Hurricane Harvey wiped out 80% of the 42 wild birds, to drought, to fire ant devastation. It is miraculous they are still here.

Prairie-Chicks used to range across the coastal plains of Texas to Louisiana but, widespread development has decimated all but 1% of the habitat for these birds. They now have one wild flock at the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge and are maintaining population from yearly released birds bred in captivity. The birds are successful in going from captivity to breeding in the wild and some years have seen wonderful population growth, but with such a small population each weather disaster is able to devastate them back down to almost gone.

Fire Ants have been another huge issue. Not only do they feed on the young they also consume all of the insects that live in the prairie leaving nothing for the young prairie chickens to grow up on. The Fire Ants are an invasive species that was introduced in Alabama in the 1930’s and have since populated almost all of the southern states. They are not only terrible for native wildlife they are incredibly harmful and costly to humans.

What we should consider: Getting rid of an invasive species after it has been introduced can be a troublesome undertaking. While eradicating the species you may do unforeseen harm to the existing ecosystem in other ways. Although, with the fire ants I think it is a necessary evil to take out this insect from North America. It is sometimes impossible to know the ripple effect of our actions, but with species introduction unless it is a release of an endangered species it is best to never do.

Even our domestic animals can have devastating effects on ecosystems. Humans are a big population which means the domestic animals we need or have is also a staggering population that is a significant impact.

What is being done: Attwater Prairie Chickens are in the first group of animals put on the US’s Endangered Species Protection Act before it was fully the ESA. In the 60’s the numbers of Attwater Prairie Chickens had started declining dramatically and it is guessed this is when the effects of Fire Ants really started. There is no other known significant yearly issue these birds face. The captive breeding program is wide spread between numerous facilities with a continued end goal of a sustainable wild population. After many years in a row with bad outcomes due to unprecedented storms and drought as well as not enough control on fire ant population there is hope that 2019 will be the start of the upswing. These birds evolved to breed in numbers and quickly since they are prey animals. They should, once given the right conditions, be able to rebound.

How to help: Be a part of community planning. See how having more native grasslands around your community can aid in flood relief.

Continue bringing awareness. Call into state senators when legislation is being passed that could affect the continued support of policy that protects wildlife, land,  and waterways. Support locally.

Support can be:

  • donating to science groups
  • helping to ensure funding to the organizations that creating breeding programs
  • being a citizen scientist through
    • land restoration projects
    • trash clean ups
    • species counts
    • bio blitzes
  • getting people you know excited about how incredible our planet’s biodiversity is.

Joining your local Audubon Society or other local conservation group is a great first step into finding activities and ways to become a citizen scientist and environmental advocate.

Further Reading, my sources:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGSWi_vgu9A

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mSVV91sOos

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/08/news-attwater-prairie-chicken-murder-mystery-endangered-species/

https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Attwater_Prairie_Chicken/multimedia/Videos.html

http://www.attwater.org/

https://www.audubon.org/news/boom-or-bust-last-stand-attwaters-prairie-chicken

https://www.audubon.org/news/a-rare-encounter-even-rarer-bird

https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/did-hurricane-harvey-signal-last-dance-attwaters-prairie-chickens

https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/attwaters-prairie-chicken-dances-face-destruction

https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Attwater_Prairie_Chicken/wildlife/fire_ants.html

https://www.houstonzoo.org/saving-wildlife/texas-conservation/attwaters-prairie-chicken/

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/Save-the-Attwater-prairie-chicken-save-Houston-12856980.php#photo-12891446

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/life/gardening/article/Festival-celebrates-Attwater-s-prairie-chickens-12810480.php

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Holst-WWJD-about-the-lesser-prairie-chicken-7968987.php

https://medium.com/@USFWS/invasive-fire-ants-make-problems-for-attwaters-prairie-chicken-c055dd2e02f8

https://www.nfwf.org/attwater/Pages/home.aspx

https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/apc/

[This is a blog of my opinions. I speak for myself. I am a one person team and if I have misinterpreted a fact or made an error please feel free to get in touch to correct me. I will make edits and updates to post. I would appreciate corrections to be polite. I will not engage in hate.]

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