Wildlife and Parks Study
The Lesser Prairie Chicken Study
The lesser prairie chicken is a grassland-nesting bird present in southwestern Kansas and surrounding states. At one time, large populations of lesser prairie chickens inhabited these regions, particularly in grasslands dominated by sandsage brush or shinnery oak. Now, however, this species occupies a fraction of its historic range, and its populations have declined. As a result, the lesser prairie chicken is being considered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a species in need of protection through the Endangered Species Act.
In 1997, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks funded a six-year study in cooperation with Kansas State University to determine the impacts of anthropogenic factors on the use of sandsage brush habitat by lesser prairie chickens.
Data was obtained by trapping 100 birds on two 12,500-acre study sites in Finney County, including Holcomb Station, during a 1997-to-2003 field study. Captured birds were fitted with transmitters and released. The movements of transmitter-equipped females were monitored daily during the nesting season, and when a bird’s location was unchanged for three days, the bird was considered to be nesting.
Locations of nests were entered into a geographic information system, along with the location of wellheads, buildings, transmission lines, roads, and center-pivot irrigated fields. Researchers then calculated the distance from each nest to the nearest anthropogenic factor.
Conclusions revealed that the decline of the lesser prairie chicken can be attributed not only to a loss of suitable habitat, but also to low nest success since nesting birds rejected suitable habitat near human activity. Lesser prairie chicken females created “avoidance buffers” by distancing the nest from human activity. These buffers, along with the conversion of grassland to agriculture or urban development, decreased habitat suitable for nesting to only 26 percent of the historic amount.
Robel, Robert, J., et al. “Effect of Energy Development and Human Activity on the Use of Sand Sagebrush Habitat by Lesser Prairie Chickens in Southwestern, Kansas.”