The third annual lesser prairie-chicken aerial survey shows a nearly 20 percent increase in the bird’s range-wide population, up from an estimated 18,747 birds in 2013 to 22,415 this year, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Wildlife biologists are encouraged by the increase, but note that prairie-chicken numbers can fluctuate up and down from year to year, mainly due to grassland habitat conditions influenced by rainfall.
The range-wide increase was not evenly spread across the bird’s four habitat regions distributed among five states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
The mixed grass prairie region showed the biggest gain, a region that includes the northeastern Texas Panhandle, northwestern Oklahoma and south central Kansas, an area where more rain produced better prairie habitat. In the sand sagebrush region in southwestern Kansas, southeastern Colorado and the northwestern Oklahoma Panhandle, where persistent drought continues to take a toll, the survey showed a significant population decline.
Photo by Earl Nottingham, TPWD.