What to Look and Listen For
Lesser prairie-chickens are grouselike birds about the size of a small domestic chicken. They are mostly brown with horizontal barring and a short, rounded tail. They resemble their larger cousin, the greater prairie-chicken, in plumage and behavior—but they are smaller and paler with lighter barring on their underparts. Both sexes are similarly sized, at around 15-16 inches (38-41 cm) long. During courtship displays, males can be heard “booming” — their notes are higher pitched than those of greater prairie-chicken.
How to Find a Lesser Prairie-chicken
Lesser prairie-chickens are ground-dwelling birds of open rangeland and shortgrass prairie habitats with sandy soil. This species favors areas that offer plenty of sagebrush or shinnery oak. They are uncommon and local year-round residents in a patchy range across the southern Great Plains. The easiest time to locate this species is in springtime, when males gather on gobbling grounds, or leks, for group courtship displays to attract females.
In summer, lesser prairie-chickens subsist on a diet of grasshoppers and other insects. When the weather turns colder and insects become unavailable, they switch their diet to a variety of seeds, leaves, grain, and milo that they forage from the wild or from nearby farmlands.
Courtship and Nesting Behavior
Males gather at a lek to perform elaborate courtship displays, which involve inflating the orange-red air sacs on their throat, showing off the yellow combs above their eyes, raising their dark neck tuft, and calling. The males on the lek all jostle for position, trying to edge their way closer to the center where the alpha males hold their ground and defend against challengers.
The commotion attracts a number of females, who enter the lek to select a male with which to mate. After mating on the spot, the females depart. Soon, they will build a nest and tend to their offspring alone. Females make their nests on the ground, typically laying 12 eggs that hatch in 24-26 days. The young hatch downy and capable of following their mother.