STCP  Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken

Attwater's Prairie-Chicken                                                                          
The Most Endangered Grouse in North America

Photo Credit: Noppodal Paothong

Once, there were about a million Attwater’s prairie-chickens (APC) 
to be found on six-million acres of coastal prairie extending along the 
Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi, Texas, north to the Bayou Teche area 
in Louisiana and inland some 75 miles.
Between land use changes including rice production, overgrazing,
fire suppression, urbanization and industrialization, much of that 
prairie, some estimates as high as 98% of it, has disappeared.
While 1 – 2% of the original prairie may still exist, much of that is  
fragmented as small pockets that are useless for this bird. This 
isolation onto ever smaller pockets of land, creates a situation 
where predators of the prairie-chickens thrive as the useable
habitat decreases.
By 1919, the Attwater’s prairie-chicken was extirpated from 
Louisiana. Estimates in 1937 showed only about 8,700 individuals
left in Texas – less than 1% of the population. This signaled the 
end of hunting for this once popular and common game bird. The 
bird was listed as endangered in 1967 with an estimated population
of 1,070 birds – 0.1% of the historic population. In 1973 the 
Endangered Species Act provided immediate protection for the 
seriously declining species. A devastating series of droughts and 
floods between 1980 and 1994 seriously impacted the birds such 
that by 1994 less than 160 individuals could be found in the wild. 
By 2003, fewer than 60 birds remained in two fragments of habitat
located in Galveston and Colorado counties.
So few birds are left today that a captive breeding program offers 
the only hope for saving this species. The first chicks produced
through this program hatched at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center near 
Glen Rose, Texas, in 1992. Now, Texas A&M University, the 
Houston Zoo, Fossil Rim, the San Antonio Zoo, Sea World of Texas,
Caldwell Zoo, and the Abilene Zoo all take part in raising birds 
destined to return to the wild. A safe harbor agreement between
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the administering 
organizations has helped private landowners be a part of the 
conservation effort to save the APC. Through the agreement, 
landowners are able to be involved in restoring and maintaining 
coastal prairie habitat with cost share and incentives, on their
own land.

Since 1995, 2,185 APCs have been released from captivity back 
into the wild. For the first time, in late 2007, 55 juvenile APCs 
arrived from captive breeding facilities and were released into the
wild onto private ranch land in Goliad County in South Texas. 
This was followed by releases of over 130 birds in 2008, 241 
in 2009 and 133 in 2010. 

The ranch lies within a pristine native prairie kept intact by family 
since the mid-1800s and is part of the 60,000-acre Refugio-Goliad 
Prairie, which spans half a dozen family ranches. The Refugio-Goliad 
Prairie is the largest remaining intact expanse of tall-grass coastal 
prairie on the Gulf Coast and is historical habitat for APCs which were
last seen in the region in the mid-1990s. 
This project is a partnership between The Society of Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus, Ltd. (STCP), the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPW), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Coastal Prairie Coalition of the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, Papalote Land and Cattle Company (the landowner), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the APC captive-rearing facilities.
STCP’s role in this recovery effort is to evaluate the releases of the pen-reared APCs and monitor their movements, dispersal and survival. This involves daily monitoring and radio-tracking throughout the year.
The Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken Recovery Plan was written to prevent this species from extinction, and ultimately, to remove it from the endangered species list. The long-term goal is to establish a self-sustaining wild population of 5,000 birds in three geographically separate, viable populations within its’ historical range.  
An updated and revised plan has recently been prepared by the APC Recovery Team that will focus on increasing the number of captive-produced young available for release into the wild (on public and private lands) as well as genetics, the ability of hens to raise broods in the wild, habitat management, diseases and nutrition. To accomplish these goals, further partnerships will be needed between federal and state wildlife agencies, private landowners, grazing organizations and conservation organizations.

To this end, in 2009 STCP submitted a grant proposal to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for financial assistance with our work in Texas. The proposal detailed an effort to look into the role that red imported fire ants (RIFA) may be having on chick mortality and native insect availability and it’s relationship to brood survival. In late 2009 STCP was awarded funding for this project and in the fall of 2010 spraying for fire ant control was initiated on six pastures totaling nearly 3,000 acres at four study areas. Evaluations of these efforts and insect monitoring began in the spring of 2011 and a final report was prepared in 2013. 

NOTE:  Portions of the above are excerpted in whole and in part from Texas Parks & Wildlife and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken brochures and web sites.  Photo credit APC image: Gary Halvorson, USFWS

Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken Publications and Research Reports

Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken Recovery Plan 
To download a PDF of this click here: APCRecoveryPlan.pdf

Grouse Partnership News Article
Attwater’s Prairie Chicken Recovery: The Beginning or the End?
To download a PDF of this click here: GPN_APC1.pdf

Evaluation of the Reintroduction of Attwater’s Prairie-Chickens in the 
Refugio-Goliad Prairie, Texas, 2007 - 2011. Final Report
To download a PDF of this click here: STCP/TPWDFinalReport.pdf

Evaluation of the Effects of Red Imported Fire Ants (Solenopsis invictus) on abundance of insect prey and brood survival in Attwater’s prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus attwateri) at Refugio and Goliad Prairies for the time period 4/1/2012 - 9/30/2012.
To download copy of this report click here. 

Brood Survival of Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken (TX). Final Report
National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Grant #2010-0008-000/509
To download a PDF of this click here: STCP/NFWF_FinalReport.pdf

Record Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken Release for 2014
To download a PDF of this click here: APC2014.pdf

Friends of Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge
For additional info and updates click here.

Site Index


A controlled burn to maintain healthy grasslands at the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Texas

Mike Morrow of the USFWS examines a captive-produced Attwater’s prairie-chicken prior to release.

STCP Research Fellow Aaron Pratt points out an Attwater’s prairie- chicken nest in the midst of a protective wire enclosure.

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