Archive for December 6th, 2009

The prairie chicken is gone

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

The Greater Prairie-Chicken, a bird that once numbered in the millions on the grasslands, is now considered wiped out in Canada, scientists from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada reported Monday.

The medium-sized grouse, Tympanuchus cupido, has not been seen in Canada in more than 20 years, according to the latest update on the species.

It is on a worrisome list of 23 wildlife species in Canada that are considered extirpated, or no longer found in the wild. It does have populations in the United States and some states, including Missouri, have initiated conservation programs to bolster its numbers.

During the committee’s recent meetings in Ottawa, it was determined that the bird has not been seen in Canada since 1987. In 1900, by contrast, it was estimated that there were at least a million prairie-chickens breeding in Canada.

(full news story here)

Browsing through some on the public comments on this news story, I was struck by a number of things:

  • Firstly, the number of people stating that the article is wrong – that there are a lot of prairie chickens still around.  This is an unfortunate result of the fact that the term “prairie chicken” is commonly used in the prairie provinces to refer to another species, the sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus).
  • Secondly, several commenters state that hunting is to blame for the prairie chicken’s extirpation.  However according to the federal “species at risk registry, the real reason is habitat loss.  Very little natural grassland remains in Canada.
  • Thirdly, the range of views on whether it even matters.  Some people feel that the loss makes no difference – it’s just a bird that was too stupid to adapt.

For the record, I think it does matter that the prairie chicken is extirpated from Canada.  I have never seen a prairie chicken, but I would love to see one some day.  Life goes on, but I believe that we are poorer  without the prairie chicken, whether we realize it or not.