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Contact information
For information on Wisconsin's rare vertebrate animals, contact:
Rich Staffen
Conservation Biologist
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Jay Watson
Conservation Biologist

Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido)



Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido), listed as Threatened in Wisconsin, prefers mixed grasslands and managed grasslands including wheatgrass, switchgrass, timothy, bromegrass, hoary alyssum, yarrow, blue vervain, daisy fleabane and goldenrods. The required avoidance period is May 10 - August 1.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - both state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where occurrences of this species meet NHI data standards and is not meant as a comprehensive map of all observations.

Note: Species recently added to the NHI Working List may temporarily have blank occurrence maps.

Documented locations of Tympanuchus cupido in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.
Summary Information
State StatusTHR
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG4
Tracked by NHIY

Species guidance

Note: a species guidance document is not available at this time. Information below was compiled from publication ER-091.

Identification: Slightly larger than the sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus); plumage is olive-brown to pale clove brown with cross-bars of buffy brown and white on back, wings, breast, belly, and tail. Tail is short and rounded. Males have long tufts of feathers and orange, scarlet-edged, esophageal "air sacs" on the sides of their neck.

Habitat: Prefer prairie-openings interspersed among oak woodland and oak savanna. Dense grassland is necessary for roosting, loafing, and nesting. Good habitat may include some shrubbery, aspen and birch for budding, weeds, berries, cultivated grains, and oaks. Leks (concentrated courtship and breeding sites) are generally located in areas accessible to numerous females, often on small rises or knolls prominently exposed by flat surrounding topography and/or lack of vegetation.

State Distribution: Locally uncommon resident central and northwest. Groups may be found in Adams, Portage, Wood, and Marathon counties. Individual birds have been sighted in Clark and Taylor counties. A map outlining Pre-1977 and 1997 to Present Distribution is available.

Diet: Breeding Season--Leaves, seeds, buds, fruits, and insects. Insects are particularly important for juveniles. Winter--Leaves and seeds from a variety of plant species and cultivated grains. Of the latter, they prefer corn and buckwheat to wheat, oats, barley, and rye.

Clutch: Usually 10-12 olive eggs spotted with dark brown; laid from late April to early July.

Incubation: 23-24 days. Young fledge in 7-14 days.

Nest: Eggs laid in a hollow in the ground lined with grasses. Well hidden among grasses or other ground vegetation.

Management Guidelines: Market hunting and poaching historically led to significant population declines. Currently, predation on eggs and birds is the primary cause of mortality. Human-related factors include general disturbance, livestock, farm machinery, moving vehicles, electric wires, fences, pesticides, and fire. The use of pesticides may reduce insect availability during the breeding season, particularly for chicks. Predator control, pheasant removal, and creating artificial sources of food and water have little effect on increasing and stabilizing prairie-chicken populations. The most effective strategies have been directed toward habitat improvement including manipulation of grazing pressure, control of burning, providing dense vegetation for protective cover, and establishment of preserves. To increase the population's distribution, the reintroduction of birds into formerly occupied territory may be necessary, however few transplants have been successful.



Greater Prairie-Chicken

Greater Prairie-Chicken

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Greater Prairie-Chicken

Greater Prairie-Chickens

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Greater Prairie-Chicken

Photo © Dave Menke.

Greater Prairie-Chicken

Photo by Gerald Bartelt, WDNR.

Wildlife Action Plan

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community (habitat) associations

The table below lists the natural communities that are associated with Greater Prairie-Chicken. Only natural communities for which Greater Prairie-Chicken is "high" (score=3) or "moderate" (score=2) associated are shown. See the key to association scores for complete definitions. Please see the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Ecological landscape associations

The table below lists the ecological landscape association scores for Greater Prairie-Chicken. The scores correspond to the map (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None). For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

This map shows the probability of Greater Prairie-Chicken occurring in each of Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes.  Actual scores can be found in the table to the left.

Ecological landscape score
Central Sand Plains 3
Forest Transition 3
Central Sand Hills 1

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Landscape-Community combinations of highest ecological priority*

Ecological priorities are the combinations of natural communities and ecological landscapes that provide Wisconsin's best opportunities to conserve important habitats for a given Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The 10 highest scoring combinations are considered ecological priorities and are listed below. More than 10 combinations are listed if multiple combinations tied for 10th place. For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

* Ecological priority score is a relative measure that is not meant for comparison between species. This score does not consider socio-economical factors that may dictate protection and/or management priorities differently than those determined solely by ecological analysis. Further, a low ecological priority score does not imply that management or preservation should not occur on a site if there are important reasons for doing so locally.

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Issues/threats and conservation actions

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for rare animals

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Last revised: Thursday, December 22, 2022