Lesser Prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus): downlist from Vulnerable to Near Threatened?

This discussion was first published as part of the 2017 Red List update. At the time a decision regarding the status of several was pended, but to enable potential reassessment of these species as part of the 2018 Red List update this post remains open and the date of posting has been updated.

Lesser Prairie-chicken, Tympanuchus pallidicinctus, is currently listed as Vulnerable under criteria A2bcd+3bcd+4bcd on the basis of long-term and rapid population declines (BirdLife International 2017). It is endemic to U.S.A., occurring in the states of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico; and historically possibly into Nebraska as well (e.g. Wolfe et al. 2007). Recent population estimates from 2015 place the population in the range of 22,000-44,000 individuals, most occurring in Kansas (McDonald et al. 2015). A re-evaluation of population trends by Garton et al. (2016 [per C. Hagen in litt. 2016]) suggests that over the preceding 48 years there had been a measurable decline in population, but this may not be to the same degree as previously thought. Over that 48 year period it was found that the abundance may have declined on average by 49% at an average rate of annual decline of 1.7% per year (Garton et al. 2016 [per C. Hagen in litt. 2016]). Such declines are as a result of habitat conversion (Wolfe et al. 2007) and historically due to market hunting (Wolfe et al. 2007); although recreational hunting for Lesser Prairie-chicken is now closed in most of the states where it occurs, and is no longer considered to be a significant threat to the species (Van Pelt et al. 2014). However, since 1995, most populations of Lesser Prairie-chicken have stabilised or increased as a result of a variety of conservation measures being enacted (C. Hagen in litt. 2016).

To meet the threshold for Vulnerable under criteria A2+3+4 would require this species to be have undergone and continue to undergo declines in the range of 30-49% over 3 generations or 10 years, whichever is the longer (IUCN 2012). The generation length for this species is currently listed as 5.5 years, and hence the time period used should be approximately 16.5 years – a time period over which most of the populations have been stable or increasing. Conservatively assuming that the annual figures shown above have been continuous over the 48 year period would roughly equate to a decline of 20-25% over 3 generations. Therefore, even taking this conservative assumption the rate of decline would not be sufficient for listing as Vulnerable anymore and the species would warrant downlisting. However, the removal of conservation measures would likely mean that the species would decline once again and would likely again warrant listing as Vulnerable. Therefore, it is proposed that this species be listed as Near Threatened under criteria A2bcd+3bc+4bc on the basis that it has undergone historic declines that have meant the species qualified as Vulnerable, and these are now only prevented from continuing as a result of continued conservation efforts.

We welcome any further information and comments on this proposed downlisting.



BirdLife International (2017) Species factsheet: Tympanuchus pallidicinctus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/01/2017.

Garton, E. O., C. A. Hagen, G. M. Beauprez, S. C. Kyle, J. C. Pitman, D. D. Schoeling, and W. E. Van Pelt. 2016. Population dynamics of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Studies in Avian Biology: 48: 49-76.

IUCN. (2012). IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. Second edition. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

McDonald, L., K. Adachi, T. Rintz, and G. Gardner. 2015. Range-Wide Population Size of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken: 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Technical Report prepared for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc. (WEST), 200 South 2nd Street, Laramie, Wyoming, 82070.

Wolfe, D. H.; Patten, M. A.; Shochat, E.; Pruett, C. L.; Sherrod, S. K. 2007. Causes and patterns of mortality in lesser prairie-chickens Tympanuchus pallidicinctus and implications for management. Wildlife Biology 13: 95-104.

Van Pelt, W. E., S. Kyle, J. Pitman, D. Klute, G. Beauprez, D. Schoeling, A. Janus, and J. B. Haufler. 2013. The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan. Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cheyenne, Wyoming, USA.

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8 Responses to Lesser Prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus): downlist from Vulnerable to Near Threatened?

  1. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our proposal for the 2017 Red List would be to pend the decision on this species and keep this discussion open until 2018, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2017 update.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 4 August, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from those in the initial proposal.

    The final 2017 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  2. Terry Riley says:

    The real test will be how well the species survives the next long-term drought.

  3. Chris Holmes says:

    I disagree with the down listing of this species to Near Threatened. Grouse population are susceptible to rapid declines and populations can experience drastic reductions in just one season. The Attwater’s Prairie Chicken and Heath Hen are good examples of sub-species within this genus of grouse that disappeared in a relatively brief period of time due to a combination of events including weather patterns and habitat fragmentation. Bird’s in this genus have an extremely short lifespan Attwater’s in the captive population show signs of being geriatric at four to five years of age and this is a captive bird that has access to nutritional foods and is treated for parasites routinely. This species has a brief breeding season which can be disturbed by weather patterns further this group is highly predated on by lots of other species. Loss of habitat will only increase in the coming years with proposed pipelines through its range states. The Trump administration has been opposed to conservation actions for this species as it is seen as inhibiting oil exploration and other economic ventures.

  4. Clait E. Braun says:

    Lesser Prairie-Chickens are functionally absent from Colorado with no real hope of regaining habitats. Populations appear to be marginal in Texas, declining in New Mexico and Oklahoma, while marginally expanding in portions of their former range north of the Arkansas River in Kansas. Drought lasting 2-3 years will move this species to the endangered classification. I recommend this species be considered as Near Vulnerable and also recommend a study of the loss of genetic variability. The distribution is too fragmented to really hope for continued gene flow among ‘populations’.

  5. Stephanie Manes says:

    The low population size, weak brood survival, rate of habitat loss and fragmentation, land use and development pressures, stochastic weather events, and other documented threats are functionally unchanged for this species. Recent conservation planning efforts spurred to prevent federal listing under the Endangered Species Act have succeeded politically but are insufficiently funded to permanently offset the continued loss and fragmentation of LPC habitat, resulting in ongoing net loss. As with previous voluntary in-lieu fee mitigation structures for other species, industry participation (payment) has fallen over time after the threat of regulation is postponed or removed. It is my professional opinion that the IUCN should not downgrade the status of the LPC .

  6. Randy Rodgers says:

    I have surveyed lesser prairie-chickens for 40 consecutive springs in Hamilton County, Kansas and have seen their ups and downs over that time, not only on my survey area, but elsewhere in Kansas. The major drought that began in the summer of 2010 caused the population on my 20-square-mile survey area to drop from 46 displaying males observed in the spring of 2010 to 5 males in 2014, essentially a 90% decline. That does not take into account that the 46-male count in 2010 was also below the long-term average. Recent improved precipitation patterns have allowed the birds to recover somewhat to 28 males in the spring of 2018. While some good things have happened relative to conservation, it is my opinion that the net habitat losses in the species’ range continue to outweigh the gains. At least in the Kansas portions of the lesser prairie-chicken range, the recent improvement in the species populations is primarily the result of improved weather conditions. This could easily turn to the negative again if persistent drought reoccurs. I do not favor the change to “near threatened.”

  7. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Tim Meehan has kindly provided analyses of Christmas Bird Count data. Taken from long-term trends (1966-2017), these data suggest an annual decline of 14.85% (9.43-21.36% annual decline) in this species. This would equate to a reduction of 92.96% (80.50-98.10%) over three generations.

  8. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    We would like to thank everyone for their comments. We do have to highlight that while historical declines have been dire, reductions in population size need to be looked at over 3 generations (in this case 16.5 years) for a Red List assessment. This means that much of the historical losses from the population would not count towards a Red List assessment. However, based on the information regarding the potential impacts of the droughts on this species, our preliminary proposal for the 2018 Red List would be to precautionarily retain a listing as Vulnerable, but under only criterion A3.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline in mid-July, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from the initial proposal.
    The final 2018 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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