Also Goes By: Prairie Grouse, Pinnated Grouse, Chicken
The Prairie Chicken is divided into subspecies, most notably the Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken.
The Greater Prairie Chicken is a member of the grouse family and is rather substantial in size. Stocky with a short and round tail, this bird is about 19 inches in length. Males distinguish themselves with a yellow-orange colored comb over their eyes, and orange neck patch and long, dark head feathers. Females are less colorful, lacking the comb and neck patch.
The Prairie Chicken mating ritual, called “booming”, is not to be ignored. In the hopes of attracting females, males will inflate the air sacs of the sides of their necks and snap their tails in an area of lower growing shrub and grassland called a booming ground. Males will remain in their booming territory for 2 months
Like the name implies, the Prairie Chicken lives in areas of open prairie and savannah where they can feed on leaves, seeds, grains and insects. This bird will test the shooting skills of many a hunter with its fast flying and tendency to flush from a greater distance away from its pursuer. During the late fall, they can often be found among the ripened grain fields and are a challenge to bag.
The Lesser Prairie Chicken is slightly smaller than its relative and can be found in regulated areas of the southern Great Plains. Like the Greater Prairie Chicken, this bird is also known for its lekking or booming behavior during mating season. Despite similarities, this breed has been more vulnerable to the destruction of its habitat. Preferring the dry climes of sand sagebrush and shinnery oak that have been greatly reduced, these birds are dwindling in number. As a result both hunting regulations and season duration are restricted with this bird and it is best to do your homework before setting out on the hunt.
Photo Courtesy of Dave Menske, USFW