The Lesser Prairie-Chicken (
) is a rare to uncommon year-round resident in the northeastern and southwestern portions of the Texas Panhandle. They are present in only a few counties in both regions. Historically, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken range was much greater, encompassing the entire Texas Panhandle as well as extending further south to the I-10 corridor in West Texas (Menard and Jeff Davis counties). There are even historical eastern records from Cooke and Tarrant counties. There has been a significant reduction in range for this species over the past 100 years and thus it is a federally listed threatened species. Habitat for this species is grassland areas with sage or oak.
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken comes from the Phasianidae family which consists of the upland game birds. It is a stocky oval shaped bird with a small head and short rounded tail. The plumage is uniformly barred throughout the body and there is a dark eye-line. The males are more decorated with reddish air sacs and yellow combs (eyebrows). The males also have long specialized feathers (pinnae feathers) on the nape that can be raised during mating displays. They are a strong flier using a combination of flaps and glides. They feed predominantly on insects and seeds/grain depending upon the time of year. They are ground nesters. The Greater Prairie-Chicken is similar in appearance and also present in Texas, however, there is no range overlap between the species.
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken can be a difficult species to find in Texas due to the restricted range, with much of that range being on private ranches. One of the prized times to view the species is in the spring when they congregate in the early morning hours at their “leks” to perform their mating dances. The males will perform exotic dances stomping their feet rapidly and inflating their red air sacs to create a “booming” noise. The males will frequently duel each other to show who is dominate. The exact same “lek” may be used year after year for decades. Historically, there was a private blind operating outside of Canadian Texas to watch these unique game birds displaying on their lek until a wildfire raged through this area in 2016. The booming vocalization is a bubbling low-pitched wullah wullah and both sexes give typical clucking notes. A group of prairie chickens are known as a “little house” and a “pack” of prairie chickens.