Attwater's Prairie Chicken

Amazing Animals

Yak's Corner

Just for kids

January 11, 1999|By PATRICIA CHARGOT

WHAT is it?

For starters, the Attwater's Prairie Chicken is not a chicken. It's a member of the grouse family, or birds that like to run around on the ground. Most grouse are the size of a large chicken. But the Attwater's weighs only about two pounds.

WHAT does it look like?

The Attwater's is brownish and kind of blotchy. Males have yellow air sacs on their necks that they inflate when courting.

What ELSE do they do?

When they display for females, the males make a loud booming noise. It's like the sound you make when you blow into a soda bottle. The males also dance by stomping their feet. They put on quite a show for the ladies.

Where DO they do this?

Why, at their traditional booming grounds, of course! This place is called a ``lek.'' The males put on a show, and the females select a mate. Then the females lay 10 to 12 eggs, but most won't hatch. They'll be eaten by predators, such as raccoons, skunks and snakes.

WHERE do they live?

They once ranged over 6 million acres of prairie land along the coasts of Texas and southwest Louisiana. By the turn of the century, they only had a million acres of habitat left. Today, there are only three small populations left in Texas, and fewer than 100 Attwater's left in the wild. The bird is highly endangered.

What happened?

The usual - humans pushed them to the point of extinction through commercial development, farming and intensive grazing.

WHAT'S being done to save them? Three Texas zoos and a university are working together to breed the birds in captivity. They now have 120. In the past three years, they've also released 142 back into the wild. A lot have been eaten by predators, though, which is how things go for grouse in the wild.

Source: Bruce Williams,

vice-president for conservation,

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Texas

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