The prairie chicken is gone

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.

4 Responses to “The prairie chicken is gone”

  1. Marc says:

    It *is* a shame. God created the prairie chicken and said that it was very good. And now it’s gone. The extinction of a species always makes me sad.

  2. Phil L says:

    I agree Marc. I think that we should be good stewards of creation, and perhaps we’ve done something wrong if there isn’t enough habitat to meet the prairie chicken’s requirements.

    One minor note though. It is not extinct, although it has been extirpated from the Canadian part of its former range. There are still breeding populations of prairie chickens in some U.S. states. I would like to think that perhaps in the future, enough of its Canadian habitat might be restored to consider a re-introduction program.

  3. Marc says:

    Right. I *knew* you used “extirpated” for a reason…nearly used it myself. I think I opted for “extinct” because I didn’t think I should use a word I couldn’t define!


  4. Linea says:

    Marc and Phil,
    I’ve never heard extirpated in regards to a species either. My definition of it comes from what we do to nerves (ie:pulp tissue) when we do a root canal. We extirpate it. It is removed by us. So I think it sort of involves an action on our part that causes something to be removed, not a natural process.

    That is a beautiful bird that we have lost as part of our fauna. (are birds also fauna?) Especially considering that only 100 years ago there were a million of them. We do tend to take over the world destroying as we go, don’t we.