This Two-Steppin' Chicken Is Not What's For Dinner

The colorful Attwater's Prairie Chicken is on the verge of extinction.
Mon April 8, 2013 1:00 pm
Flickr | USFWS Headquarters

Texas may be regarded as a land of cattle barons and high-caliber hunters, but it is also the home of animal lovers who want to keep endangered critters from waddling off into the sunset of eternity. One near extinct species of prairie chicken is the subject of a dedicated rescue effort by Texas conservationists, according to a  report by Steve Campbell of the  Fort Worth Star-Telegram

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Services, the Attwater Prairie Chicken was placed on the federal endangered species list in March 1967, and its population has dwindled since then, reaching as few as 42 individuals in 1996. The bird, which flourished 100 years ago, is native to 6 million acres of coastal prairies stretching from Corpus Christi to Louisiana, where the influx of human populations and cattle grazing usurped its natural habitat. Now the rare cluckers live almost entirely on dedicated refuges.

In 1972, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the approximately 3,500 acres near Eagle Lake that would become the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge. Now spanning 10,528 acres, the refuge is home to 58 of the 66 Attwater's that still live in the wild, Terry Rossignol, recovery team leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the  Star-Telegram.

Though conservation attempts hope to bolster wild populations, right now the best chance for the Attwater's seems to be in captive breeding. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, a nonprofit conservation facility southwest of Fort Worth that works in tandem with the Fish and Wildlife Service, has been a crucial component in keeping the Attwater's from fading into extinction. Since 1992, Fossil Rim has released roughly 1,200 birds back into the wild from its breeding facility, wrote Campbell.

"If it had started just a few years later, there probably wouldn't be any Attwater's today. That's how close we were to losing the species," said Rossignol. "It gave us just enough time to figure out the techniques and start increasing them in captivity. Fossil Rim's work was crucial." According to their  website, Fossil Rim produces two-thirds of the total Attwater's population every year.

While the facility works to sustain a number of struggling species, workers emphasize the importance of their efforts with the Attwater's prairie chicken. "Cheetahs and rhinos are the big sexys—they are the iconic species that people gravitate to," Kelly Snodgrass, director of animal care and natural resource management, told Campbell. "But at the same time, here we are sitting in Texas with a bird that is on the brink of extinction right here in our back yard that not many people know about."
 
One of the most charming things about the  Attwater's Prairie Chicken  is its mating dance. The bird exhibits some fancy footwork—truly impressive boot stomping—while inflating its colorful neck sacs and flexing its striped feathers. Watch The Texas Parks and Wildlife's video below:

 

 

 

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