Cover photo credit: Brian E. Small

Status

Extirpated

“Extirpated” means the species lives somewhere in the world, and at one time lived in the wild in Ontario, but no longer lives in the wild in Ontario.

Date added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List

The greater prairie-chicken was already listed as extirpated when the Endangered Species Act took effect in 2008.

Read the assessment report.

What it looks like

The Greater Prairie-Chicken is a large grouse once common on the tallgrass prairies of central North America. It is brown with light and dark barring and has a short rounded tail. During breeding, the male struts about in an elaborate courtship dance in which it erects its wing, neck and tail feathers and releases air from orange air sacs on its neck to produce a loud booming sound. The male also has conspicuous yellow eye combs.

Where it lives

The Greater Prairie-Chicken’s original habitat was the tallgrass prairies of midwestern North America. To support a flock, this bird requires large areas of undisturbed grasslands, with few shrubs or trees for nesting and dense grass stands and brush cover for overwintering.

Where it’s been found in Ontario

The Greater Prairie-Chicken was first found on southwestern Ontario prairies in the early 1800s. By the end of the 19th century its range had expanded to the east and north, as far as Lake Simcoe. With much of the land cleared for agriculture by 1900, the range subsequently retracted and the population completely disappeared from southern Ontario in the 1920s. Meanwhile, it had spread to the Sault Ste Marie area, Manitoulin Island and northwestern Ontario in the early 1900s from the United States. These populations also increased and then declined. By the 1960s it was gone from the northwest, and from the Sault Ste Marie area and Manitoulin Island in the 1970s.

The Greater Prairie-Chicken is no longer found in Canada. In the United States, their range extends from North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, south to Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, west to Colorado and east to Wisconsin and Illinois. The core of the population is in parts of Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

Why it disappeared from Ontario

The cultivation of native prairie was initially a benefit to the prairie-chicken but then became the major threat to its survival. The first settler’s grain crops supplied high energy food for the birds and their populations flourished. Then as prairie land was increasingly converted to farming, the prairie chickens were restricted to smaller and smaller areas. In Ontario, interbreeding with other species of grouse eliminated the Greater Prairie-Chicken in the Manitoulin Island area.

Action we are taking

Extirpated species and their habitat are protected if the species are again found in Ontario.

Help Make Sure We Don’t Lose More Endangered Species in Ontario

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tracks species at risk such as the Greater Prairie-Chicken. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.
  • Volunteer with a local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPSMNR (8477667).
  • Private land owners have an important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit: www.bsc-eoc.org.

Quick facts

  • The Greater Prairie-Chicken once numbered in the millions in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, but disappeared from most of its Canadian range by the mid-20th century.
  • New genetic evidence indicates that the Greater Prairie-Chicken was a native species in Canada for the past 9,000 years and did not colonize the prairies habitat with European settlement as previously thought.
  • Each flock of Greater Prairie-Chicken requires at least 5,000 to 6,000 hectares of suitable grassland habitat to provide ample cover and food.
Updated: August 12, 2021
Published: February 25, 2014