Winter habitat use and survival of lesser prairie-chickens in West Texas

Authors


  • Associate Editor: Applegate

ABSTRACT

The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) has experienced declines in population and occupied range since the late 1800s and is currently proposed for Federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Populations and the distribution of lesser prairie-chickens in Texas, USA, are thought to be at or near all-time lows. Currently, there is a paucity of data on the wintering ecology of the species. We measured home range, habitat use, and survival of lesser prairie-chickens during the non-breeding seasons (1 Sep–28 Feb) of 2008–2009, 2009–2010, and 2010–2011 in sand shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) landscapes in the West Texas panhandle region. Home range size did not differ among years or between females (503 ha) and males (489 ha). Over 97% of locations of both male and female prairie-chickens were within 3.2 km of the lek of capture, and 99.9% were within 3.2 km of an available water source (i.e., livestock water tank). Habitat cover types were not used proportional to occurrence within the home ranges; grassland-dominated areas with co-occurring sand shinnery oak were used more than available, but sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia)-dominated areas with grassland and sand sagebrush-dominated areas with bare ground were both used less than available. Survival rates during the first 2 non-breeding seasons (>80%) were among the highest reported for the species. However, survival during the third non-breeding season was only 57%, resulting in a 3-year average of 72%. It does not appear that non-breeding season mortality is a strong limiting factor in lesser prairie-chicken persistence in the study area. © 2013 The Wildlife Society.

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