The Attwater's Prairie-Chicken is a highly endangered bird that is fighting for survival. It is a wild fowl, which is in fact not related to the chicken, but is actually part of the grouse family. It's mantle, flanks and under parts are covered in a zebra-like pattern of dark brown and buff-white color while they have short, rounded dark-brown tails. The tails of the mail also have some buff coloration that is absent in the females. Males also have erect, elongated feathers on their head forming ear-like structures known as pinnae and a bright orange-to-red air sac on either side of their neck that inflates during courtship displays. The Attwater Prairie-Chicken is about 16.5 co 18 inches (42 – 46cm) long and they weigh between 1.5 to 2 pounds (0.7 – 0.9kg). They are known to be strong in flight and have a wingspan of 28inches (70cm).
The Prairie-Chicken's natural habitat consists of the tall grass coastal prairies, which is rapidly being used up for farming and has left them in danger of extinction. Their range historically stretched from Bayou Teche in Louisiana to the Nueces River in Texas, as far south as Tamaulipas, Mexico and inland for 75 mi (121 km). This covered an area of 6 million acres (24,000 km²). Today, the bird is limited to two small, isolated colonies in two counties along the Texas coast. One is at the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge near Eagle Lake, Texas and the other in the Texas City Prairie Preserve near Texas City, which covers an area of 12,000 acres (49 km2) and represents only 0.2% of its historic range.
Attwater's Prairie-Chickens have a varied diet that includes leaves, seeds, rose hip and insects such as grasshoppers. They are preyed upon by many animals including: red-tailed hawks, owls, skunks, coyotes, opossums, foxes, raccoons and snakes.
The Attwater Prairie-Chicken was once abundant in the coastal grasslands of Texas and southwest Louisiana but as a consequence of loss of habitat resulting from the tall prairie grass having been plowed for farmland and covered by cities, they are nearing extinction. Although an estimated 1 million Attwater's Prairie-Chickens existed over a century ago, fewer than 100 remain in the wild today. Captive-breeding programs are underway to try and bolster the dangerously small populations remaining in the wild. There are conflicting reports of their meat tasting similar to that of chickens while others maintain that it is more similar to fowl meat.
When choosing a mate, Prairie Chickens gather in small groups on short grass, bare ground, rock outcropping or hilly areas. These areas are known as 'booming grounds' or 'leks.' It is in these areas that females will watch the courtship displays of the males and select a suitable mate. The males make a booming, 'woo-woo' sound from their puffed-out, orange throat sac, and strut around to attract females. Once the hen has selected her partner and they have mated, she will build a grass nest on the ground, hidden in tall grass. Hens lay about 12 eggs in a clutch and the eggs hatch after 25 days. Prairie Chickens have a life span of 2 to 3 years. Some traditional dances of the North American Plains Indians mimic the booming display of male prairie chickens.
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