Attwater’s Prairie Chicken Recovery Programme
To breed and reintroduce Attwater's prairie chickens into their former range in the USA
Attwater's prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri) is a critically endangered sub-species of prairie grouse that was once very common on the coastal prairies of eastern Texas, including what is today the Houston metropolitan area. This bird is perhaps best known for its "booming" display, a characteristic male behaviour that attracts hens during the breeding season, which takes place from late winter through early spring. Unfortunately, the combination of vanishing habitat, predation and introduced species has taken its toll on the remaining wild population, which now numbers less than 100 birds at three protected sites - the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, the Texas City Prairie Preserve and private land near Goliad Texas.
The Houston Zoo is the studbook holder and the SSP coordinator of the captive breeding programmes for the Attwater's Prairie Chicken National Recovery Plan, overseen by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Each summer a number of birds hatched and raised by several Texas zoos and wildlife centres are reintroduced into nature in hopes of augmenting wild flocks and restoring the natural population to viable levels. While this has been a very difficult task, small steps forward have been made each year as more information is learned about this species.
The 2008 breeding season saw the largest number of birds released into the wild ever in one season; an amazing 370 birds. While the captive-reared birds have been nesting since releases began in the mid-1990s, very few hens were able to fledge young without human intervention (providing additional food for broods on the prairie). In 2010, several of the captive-reared hens successfully fledged young without human assistance. It is believed that success will be achieved by a continued increase of the number of captive-bred birds being released, working to help the release birds successfully raise chicks in the wild and expanding the number of release sites in the reintroduction programme.
WAZA Conservation Project 11002 is implemented by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Houston Zoo, with support provided by Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Abilene Zoological Gardens, Caldwell Zoo, San Antonio Zoological Gardens and Sea World Texas. Other stakeholders involved in the project include The Nature Conservancy, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A&M University.
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