Flight characteristics of pen-reared and wild prairie-chickens and an evaluation of a greenhouse to rear prairie-chickens



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Texas A&M University


The introduction of pen-reared Attwater's prairie-chickens (APC, Tympanuchus cupido attwateri) into the wild to supplement existing populations has met with marginal success. Flight characteristics, predator avoidance behavior, and rearing methods are possible factors contributing to post-release mortality of pen-reared birds. To evaluate flight characteristics and predator avoidance behavior of pen-reared APC's released onto the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, flight characteristics and predator avoidance behavior of pen-reared APC's was compared to wild greater prairie-chickens (GPC, T. c. pinnatus) in Minnesota and Kansas using a radar gun and a trained dog. There was no difference (P = 0.134) in flight speed for pen-reared APC and wild GPC. However, wild GPC had greater (P < 0.001) flight distances than did pen-reared APC. Wild GPC and pen-reared APC that had survived in the wild for at least a year flushed at a greater (P < 0.001) distance from an approaching human than did pen-reared APC that had been released for less than 3 months. A trained dog was able to approach closer (P < 0.001) to APC than GPC before birds flushed, and APC did not fly as far as GPC after being flushed by the dog. Pen-reared APC displayed flight endurance deficiencies and were more approachable by humans and a dog before they flushed when compared to wild GPC, which could explain their increased mortality when released into the wild. To determine if APC chicks could be reared without daily human contact, pelleted food, and water in founts, a greenhouse was used to rear chicks in a semi-natural environment. Planted vegetation and commercial insects provided hiding cover and a food source for the APC chicks. An underground heat source provided chick warmth, and water misters and a sprinkler system simulated dew (a water source for chicks) and rain. The greenhouse provided chicks protection from predators and adverse weather conditions (before they could thermo-regulate) while exposing chicks to natural sunlight, day length, and temperature fluctuations. This technique allowed chicks to be reared in a semi-natural environment which reinforced their natural foraging behavior for food and water, and reinforced their hiding and avoidance behaviors, creating a wilder pen-reared bird.