Greater Prairie Chicken

From Ohio History Central


Scientific Name: Tympanuchus cupido
Habitat: Extensive grasslands- tall grass prairie
Adult Weight: average 2-3 lbs.
Adult Body Length: 17-18 inches
Nesting Period: April
Broods Per Year: 1
Clutch Size: 5-17
Life Expectancy: 2-3 years
Foods: Insects such as grasshoppers, ants, and leafhoppers


Male prairie chickens have a yellow-orange comb over both eyes. They also have long, dark head feathers that can be raised. Their most striking feature are the two round, orange unfeathered neck patches that are inflated when displaying, When theses are inflated, they help to make a booming call. This call can be heard up to a mile away.

The male prairie chicken will raise his head feathers, inflate the neck patches and stamp its feet- all in a display to intimidate other males and to attract females during courtship.



Prairie chicken bones have been found at nine archaeological sites in southern Ohio. Its image was carved on a platform pipe by the Hopewell culture 1,500 years ago.


Large numbers of prairie chickens lived in northwestern Ohio. As prairie land became cultivated fields, the prairie chicken quickly disappeared from Ohio.

19th Century

Numbers were steady in the northwestern portion of the state. In 1835, Toledo Judge E.D. Potter stated he "had seen on Summit Street near Oak, over 500 prairie chickens at one time; and thousands together on the open lands within six miles of Toledo."

The introduction of the ring-necked pheasant in the 19th century caused prairie chicken populations to drop. Male pheasants chase male prairie chickens from their booming grounds, and female pheasants lay eggs in prairie chicken nests. These eggs hatch two days quicker, causing a loss of all the prairie chicken eggs in the nest.

Another cause for decline was the hunting of prairie chickens for market sale. Barrels of prairie chickens, passenger pigeons and other game birds were shipped to market. In 1857 a 140-day hunting season, with no bag limit began in Ohio to control the number of prairie chickens killed each year. The hunting season in Ohio was gradually shortened until they were fully protected by the early 20th century.

The last greater prairie chicken in central Ohio was in 1868, however they remained in northern counties until the 1870s. They were completely extirpated from the state before 1900.

20th Century

Small numbers of prairie chickens came into northern Ohio from Michigan in the late 1920s-mid 1930s. They did not last long; there have been no more sightings since 1937. Other than one failed attempt in 1934, there has been no program to reintroduce the prairie chicken to Ohio.

See Also


  1. Peterjohn, John. The Birds of Ohio; Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN; 1989.
  2. Glotzhober, Robert. "Competition Breeds Disaster: the Demise of the Prairie Chicken." Timeline; the Ohio History Connection, Columbus, OH; June-July, 1989, pp.20-25.