STCP Research & Conservation Projects



Year-Round Ecology of the Greater Prairie Chicken in
Native Habitat: The Sandhills of Nebraska, 2012-2015

All too often wildlife research is only initiated when problems arise in effort to identify causes and prescribe fixes. STCP has addressed issues like this for many years and realize now that the most important research focus for the future of prairie grouse is to determine what actually works in the best remaining native habitat. Assembling a detailed picture of all the elements in play for a stable or increasing population of prairie grouse will provide more long-term, valuable information than determining all the fixes for populations in decline throughout the range. 
In a unanimous vote at its annual meeting in December 2011, STCP committed to answering this question and in March 2012 we began a 3+ year research project in the Sandhills of Nebraska – perhaps the last, best place to study a large, viable prairie-chicken population in vast expanses of native grassland habitat.

Our new focus in the Sandhills of Nebraska will be the first important study aimed at answering the question, “What is normal?” The outcome could provide answers that will help insure a secure future for prairie-chickens and other prairie grouse.

For additional info click here


Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken    

STCP is involved in a multi-year project working to evaluate the release of pen-reared Attwater’s Prairie-Chickens (APC) (the most endangered grouse               in North America) on a private ranch in Goliad County, Texas. Our  evaluations will include monitoring movements, dispersal and survival of the released birds and entail daily monitoring and radio-tracking throughout the year.

Since 1995, a total of 2,413 pen-reared APCs have been released from captivity back into the wild. In 2007, STCP became directly involved with the recovery of this species when 55 pen-reared, APC were released at the Goliad project site. This was followed by additional releases of 133 birds in 2008, 95 in 2009, 48 in 2010, 72 in 2011, and 9 in 2012. Releases of captive-reared birds also took place at the Attwaters Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge (APCNWR) where between 1995-2013, a total of 1,685 were released. At the Texas City Prairie Preserve, a total of 320 birds were released between 1996-2010. In 2013 all 228 captive-reared birds were released at the APCNWR. And in 2014 a record total of 351 captive-reared birds were released at the refuge. An article by Dr. MIke Morrow pertaining to the record 2014 releases as well as current survival statistics is downloadable at: APC2014.pdf

As part of this project, young of the year Greater prairie-chickens are also being radio-tracked by STCP in northwestern Minnesota as a control group to compare condition and survival of a stable or increasing population with the pen-reared APC in Texas. Additional STCP research underway with APC and Greater prairie-chickens (for comparison) include studies pertaining to insect numbers and diversity, disease, genetic evaluations, diet & nutrition, growth and blood and egg chemistry. In 2010 with the support of a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), STCP initiated 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 aerial 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. 

For a copy of the the Final Report for this NFWF funded project click here.

This project is a partnership with the following organizations: 
• Society of Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus, Ltd. (STCP)
• Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI)
• Coastal Prairie Coalition of the GLCI
• The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
• U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)
• Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD)
• APC captive-rearing facilities 
• Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)    
Papalote Land and Cattle Company
National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)

Final Report: 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.  
For a copy of this report click here.
For more information on Attwater’s prairie-chickens click here.      


Prairie Chickens & Grasslands: 2000 and Beyond    
Between 1996-2004, 382 nests and 67 broods were studied in the central Wisconsin grasslands in a broad scale, comprehensive STCP research project titled: Prairie Chickens & Grasslands: 2000 and Beyond. Of note were studies regarding dispersal and documented nesting success between intensively managed and unmanaged habitat.
Comparisons with concurrent studies and genetic analysis in Minnesota also documented a reduction in the genetics of Wisconsin’s remnant population of prairie-chickens. As a direct result of this research, in 2006 STCP was contracted by and worked in cooperation with the Wisconsin DNR to conduct the first translocation of prairie-chickens from Minnesota into Wisconsin in an attempt to restore the genetics of Wisconsin’s remaining prairie-chickens. Additional cooperators with this translocation  included the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, Minnesota DNR, 
Wisconsin DNR and private landowners in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

This genetic infusion will likely only serve to buy time. The real issues STCP research identified regarding habitat loss and connectivity between sub-populations still need to be seriously addressed by State wildlife officials if prairie-chickens are to be self-sustaining and have a long-term secure future in the state. 

With continuing range constriction and isolation in Wisconsin, the most important prairie-chickens for the state today are the large populations in Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas. In the future, these larger populations will be the sources to translocate birds from to maintain genetics in remnant populations in Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, North Dakota and Iowa. 

For more information (PDF) on Wisconsin’s prairie-chickens click below: WIPrairieChickens.pdf 


Nesting and Brood Survival                      
This STCP project compares Greater 
prairie-chicken nest success, brood and
seasonal survival in CRP and “native” 
grasslands in northwestern Minnesota. 
Between 1992-2007, 964 nests and 192
broods were documented and studied. 
Plans are to complete field research
in 2011.
Greater Prairie-Chicken Translocation
Since 1999, a total of 566 prairie-chickens 
have been translocated from northwestern 
Minnesota to the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area (LQP) 
in west central Minnesota. This effort seeks to reestablish a population at LQP and expand the species’ range southward to connect with prairie-chicken populations in South Dakota. The last birds were released in 2006. Between 1999-2005, 95 nests were documented. 

The future status and fate of this reestablished population will be monitored through annual booming ground counts. This has been a cooperative effort between STCP, Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society,
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Minnesota DNR.

Pheasant Nest Parasitism 
STCP is concerned that presence of high densities of pheasants in 
much of the grassland habitat in the Midwest may limit the distribution 
and numbers of prairie-chickens. If prairie-chickens and pheasants 
are going to coexist we need to know more about habitat use and nest parasitism. This study attempts to gain a better understanding of the 
effects of pheasant nest parasitism on a reestablished prairie-chicken population and is a cooperative effort between STCP, Minnesota DNR 
and the MInnesota Prairie Chicken Society.

Electric Wind Generators     
Wind energy development on the prairie has raised concerns among biologists about the towers effects on grassland birds especially prairie grouse; the latter being one of the few birds that remains on the prairie year-round. At this time there are efforts to use the presence of prairie grouse to influence the placement of these towers in grassland areas 
away from display grounds. Some biologists have speculated that the towers will further fragment grassland habitat creating barriers to 
dispersal and may cause prairie-chickens to avoid or abandon the area within and surrounding the towers. At this time there is no evidence to support either of these contentions. However, placement of smaller
(3-36) wind generator complexes spread out across a broad landscape 
may be an ecologically sound way to approach this issue. Our 
reasoning is based on initial studies of prairie-chickens around a small
wind generator complex near Felton, MN where populations have 
remained stable or increased. This complex was placed in an 
agricultural field and is completely surrounded by permanent grassland habitat. In 2006, booming and dancing ground surveys were initiated
within 2 miles of a 36-tower complex in the Sandhills near Ainsworth                         Nebraska for a larger scale comparison. 

In the quest for green energy, thought must be given not only to the
placement of wind generators but also to the effects of the resulting transmission lines and the service roads that would likely increase 
human activity in the area. A common sense approach to placement of wind generators/complexes would be to place them in agricultural and urban landscapes where transmission lines and roads already exist and avoid placing them in native landscapes and prime or critical wildlife habitats. 

In 2012, STCP began a 2-3 year research project in Nebraska’s Sandhills. The outcomes of this project may have implications in regard to prairie-chicken dispersal, movements and nesting in this region that would provide much needed baseline data that could be helpful in determining wind generator placement.

North Dakota

Bry Prairie Chicken Management Area
The Bry Prairie Chicken Management Area in Grand Forks County has been surveyed by for prairie grouse for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGF) for 17 years starting 1990 and then from 1992-2008. This population was reestablished via translocation of birds from northwestern Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska between 1992-1997.  

Sheyenne Prairie Chicken Management Area
This area has been surveyed by STCP for NDGF since 2005 to monitor prairie-chicken numbers on private grasslands surrounding the
Sheyenne National Grasslands. Information is used to evaluate numbers and distribution as an overview of the NDGF limited permit prairie-chicken hunting season started in 2005; the first prairie-chicken season in over 60 years. Between 1993-1999, 81 nests were documented in North Dakota.   


Translocation and Genetic Monitoring
In 2003, STCP assisted with trapping prairie-chickens on booming grounds in Illinois to collect genetic samples to document contemporary genetic diversity. This was a follow-up to the translocation of birds from northwestern Minnesota, Nebraska and Kansas. This rescue increased the genetic diversity of this population that had been reduced to fewer than 50 birds. This is an ongoing project and the population will be monitored periodically at least every 10 years to ascertain its genetic diversity to document changes.   

According to personnel with the Illinois Department of Conservation
this population has responded and increased from less than 50 birds to over 200.

Collective Database

STCP has an extensive prairie-chicken booming ground location, nesting and genetic database that can be used for comparisons regarding the status of populations and the genetics of translocation efforts. This collective database consists of 10-50 years of booming ground counts and over 1,500 nests that includes information for each nest on species composition, last disturbance, VOR, egg size & color. STCP also has the Hamerstrom database as well as genetic samples and measurements from several thousand birds from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin and Illinois. 

This next phase of this project, primarily in northwestern Minnesota, will collect additional nesting data through 2012 to determine nesting success relative to the modification or elimination of CRP

Site Index

Typical NW Minnesota prairie-chicken habitat

The majority of Wisconsin’s remnant population of prairie-chickens are found on the state-managed Buena Vista Marsh.

A typical Minnesota prairie- chicken nest in residual grass cover

A helping hand for a hen Attwater’s prairie-chicken

Placing wind generators in altered landscapes such as agricultural and urban settings rather than grasslands could be a common sense approach to preserving critical wildlife habitat.

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