One of the Most Endangered Birds in North America
The Attwater’s prairie-chicken is a small grouse that was once unique to the coastal prairies of Texas and Louisiana. This bird is known for its energetic courtship displays. During the breeding season, males gather at dawn and dusk on flat areas with short grass to compete for females by dancing, booming, and chasing off competing males.
Slowly but surely much of the grasslands habitat, home to the prairie-chicken and many other species, bas been replaced by farms and towns. The little habitat remaining as been degraded by suppressing seasonal fires, thus allowing brush to invade the prairies. Loss of habitat and low survival of chicks in the wild because of heavy predation by small predators moved this species close to extinction.
Conservation in Action
In 1967 and 1973, the Endangered Species Act protected what had become one of the most endangered bird species in North America. Today the remaining wild population can only be found on the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge near Eagle Lake, Nature Conservancy of Texas’ Galveston Bay Prairie Preserve near Texas City, and a private ranch in Goliad County.
In 1992, as part of a comprehensive recovery plan for the species directed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center and five other zoos initiated a cooperative captive breeding program. Fossil Rim houses several breeding pairs and has contributed over half of the total Attwater’s released into the wild. Although this work has not resulted in growth of the wild population, it has been crucial in preventing the Attwater’s extinction.