Adult greater prairie-chickens are barred with brown, tan, and rust colors throughout and are similar in size to a small domestic chicken. The tail is short and rounded at the tip. There are tufts of long feathers on the sides of the neck; these tufts are longer in males. Orange air sacs and eyebrows are conspicuous on males in the spring.
Length: 17 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Native prairie and some grasslands in the Osage Plains and Glaciated Plains; small numbers survive in St. Clair and Harrison counties.
Habitat and Conservation
Missouri’s remaining prairie-chickens live on native prairies and in properly managed nonnative grasslands. They require wide open sweeps of permanent, diverse grassland. Loss of suitable habitat is one of the largest reasons for this species’ decline. Without substantial increases in suitable habitat, the species, which once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in our state, will likely soon be extirpated. Prairie conservation is the key to their survival.
Prairie-chickens eat insects, forb seeds, and greens, as well as some grains. Broods use legume hayfields, soybean fields, and weedy pastures heavily during summer.
Endangered within Missouri. Rare permanent resident. Non-game. Fewer than 100 birds remain in isolated populations in northwest and west-central Missouri.
Breeding season lasts from March through May. Cocks visit booming grounds (leks), where they dance, call, and fight among themselves. Hens visit the lek and select the most fit mate; mating occurs on the lek during April. Nests are simple and hidden in grasses; clutches usually contain 12–13 eggs. Incubation lasts about 24 days. Chicks remain with the hen for 8–10 weeks before the brood breaks up. Brood survival is very low.
The prairie-chicken was once a prized game bird in Missouri. Its colorful habits, however, keep it popular among wildlife enthusiasts. It is up to humans to preserve the prairie habitats that these magnificent birds require for survival.
Prairie-chickens are indicators of healthy grassland ecosystems and are part of the unique, interconnected community of plants and animals in Missouri prairies. Management for prairie chickens helps many other species as well.
Where to See Species
Pawnee Prairie was named for a Native American tribe that occupied the area. It is also the name of a nearby town.
About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.