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article imageGoodbye Prairie Chicken And Uh, We're Sorry

By Lenny Stoute     Dec 4, 2009 in Environment
Prairie Chickens had good taste. Too bad we didn’t. Last week it was formally confirmed that not a single Prairie Chicken had been sighted within Canada since 1987. If you want to see one, you’ll have to go to the US.
A scant 100 years ago, the noble prairie Chicken strutted and mated its way across the grasslands of America in their millions. A census in 1900 counted more than one million of the breeding-age birds. Friday, officials at the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada gravely announced the passing of Tympanuchus cupido, the Prairie Chicken, noting that not a trace of nary a one had been seen in nigh on 20 years, the cutoff point for a declaration of extinction.
Adding to the irony was the result of DNA testing in 2006, which indicated that the PC was an indigenous species native to North America, overturning the previous view of the bird as an immigrant from Europe.
These rugged individualists never did want anything from us. Human interactions were by far their greatest threat. The conversion of native prairie to cropland was the beginning of the end.A radio telemetry study conducted by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks concluded that "most prairie-chicken hens avoided nesting or rearing their broods within a quarter-mile of power lines and within a third-mile of improved roads."
It was also found that the prairie-chickens avoided communication towers and rural farms. In Canada, the infrastructural triumph that was the Trans-Canada Highway was a species disaster for these birds.With all of these human footprints on the march, well, you know the rest…
That this handsome and tasty bird never got its due was largely an issue of poor nomenclature and marketing. Research has shown people are more likely to get involved wit saving something called an Orange throated Grouse than with something called a Prairie Chicken, even though they’re the same thing. But once the chicken tag got applied it stuck and this magnificent member of the grouse family was never given much cred.
Adult males have a yellow-orange comb over their eyes. Males also have dark, elongated head feathers that can be raised or lain along neck. A circular, orange unfeathered neck patch can be inflated while displaying. Adult females have shorter head feathers and lack the male's yellow comb and orange neck patch.
These dudes knew how to court and spark. Nobody could shake a tailfeather like this crew. The males had the mating thing down cold, going so far into Barry White country their mating song was called’booming’ and performed on a specific ‘stage’.
The gig’s about inflating air sacs located on the side of the neck and squeezing out a low, booming note while snapping their tails. It’s supposed to drive the chicks wild although it’s to be noted the males stay on this ground displaying for almost two months in hopes of building a harem.
The Prairie Chicken was very well adjusted to its environment and played a vital role in keeping insect populations in check At other end, pooping out the many seeds that formed part of their diet greatly assisted biodiversity in the grasslands. Winter’s deep snows held no terrors for this wily bird, which evolved a technique called ‘diving’ into the stuff to keep warm
That they looked good on a dinner plate didn’t help their case either. But in the end, it was habitat loss rather than over-hunting which spelled the end for the Prairie Chicken, You could say they were sub-divided and surburbanised to death.
Some still survive south of the border, especially in Missouri where Prairie Chickens were plucked from a umber of wild flocks to create a special flock with a deep gene pool, to facilitate the species’ future survival..
Should Canadians feel just the teeniest bit of shame that the supposedly kill-cray American are the ones who care about this noble bird that was so much a part of Prairie culture?
More about Prairiechicken, Extinct, Canada
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