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Prairie chicken displaying

Greater Prairie Chicken Habitat

General Information

Greater prairie chickens have occupied tallgrass prairies of North America for thousands of years, but reports are unclear as to the exact distribution prior to settlement. Greater prairie chicken populations are found in Grand Forks County and in the Sheyenne National Grasslands in eastern North Dakota. It is known that prairie chickens made a huge expansion of their range as settlers moved onto the prairies and the great herds of buffalo disappeared. Both sexes are similar; adults are 16-19 inches long and weigh up to about 2 pounds. In spring, males collect on booming grounds (leks) where they display twice daily at dawn and dusk. This exhibition is a ritualized display that establishes territorial boundaries and advertises the location of the lek to females. The lek serves as the focal point for the local population and most year-round activities occur within a two-mile radius of the lek. One or more dominant males occupy central territories and do most of the breeding. Leks are typically a flat area with sparse vegetation. After mating, females nest within a mile of the lek. Nests are lined scrapes located in residual vegetation in uncultivated areas. Clutches vary from 10-14 eggs. Populations fluctuate annually depending on weather and available food and cover.

General Habitat Requirements

The greater prairie chicken is a mid-to-tallgrass prairie species with population strongholds in extensive areas of grassland interspersed with cultivated areas and rangeland. Prairie chickens feed on berries, seeds and native forbs, but also eat small grains and row crops (corn, sunflowers, soybeans) when available. Young grouse feed mainly on insects, but gradually shift to a vegetation. In northern climates, high energy foods are important to carry them through winter.

Management Considerations

  • Delay cutting grasslands (nesting habitat) until after the primary nesting season (April 15 through August 1).
  • Plant mixtures of grasses and forbs in reclaimed croplands, land retirement (CRP), and grassland restoration areas.
  • Use prescribed burning where necessary to control woody vegetation and rejuvenate decadent grass stands.
  • Control noxious weeds to prevent their domination of grasslands and rangelands.
  • Conscientious use of pesticides (e.g., least toxic to grouse, use methods to minimize exposure by grouse, minimize negative impacts to desirable habitat, target pests instead of broad scale application, Integrated Pest Management).
  • Avoid fall tillage methods to retain plant residue on the surface.
  • Control tall woody vegetation, including single trees that act as raptor perches and raptor nest sites.
  • Prescribed grazing is the key to improvement and maintenance of prairie chicken habitat.
  • Use flushing bars, avoid night mowing and cut hay fields from the center outward or toward undisturbed habitat.
  • Preserve and maintain grassland/forb communities in large (over 40 acres) contiguous tracts by prescribed rotational burning and rotational mowing when and where appropriate.
  • Preserve native prairie. It is not recommended to convert native prairie for wildlife food plots, introduced grass species, trees, etc.

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