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The Houston ship channel flows through what used to be native coastal prairie. Industrial development and sprawl from the city have greatly reduced the range of the Attwater’s prairie-chicken and other wildlife to small pockets of grassland habitat.

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White tailed-hawks are normal parts of the prairie ecosystem, but when shrinking habitat leaves endangered birds like the Attwater’s prairie chicken no place to hide, predation becomes a problem. The McCartney rose bush underneath its nest is a woody, exotic species that threatens the prairie itself.

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A Cooper’s hawk feeds on a male Attwater’s prairie-chicken it killed on a lek near Texas City, TX. Birds of prey are avital part of a healthy ecosystem, but since APC’s habitat has shrunk to a few small patches of prairie, hawks pose a substantial risk to the endangered bird.

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Barred Plymouth rock chickens, out free ranging at a farm near Elgin, KS.

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Chicken (pretty sure it’s a Buff Brahma – can get positive ID if needed.)

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Barred Plymouth rock chickens, out free ranging at a farm near Elgin, KS.

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Barred Plymouth rock chickens, out free ranging at a farm near Elgin, KS.

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Barred Plymouth rock chickens, out free ranging at a farm near Elgin, KS.

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Barred Plymouth rock chickens, out free ranging at a farm near Elgin, KS.

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Chicken (pretty sure it’s a Buff Brahma – can get positive ID if needed.)

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Chicken (pretty sure it’s a Buff Brahma – can get positive ID if needed.)

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Buff Orpington chickens search for their breakfast on a cool summer morning.

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A male Attwater’s prairie-chicken watches the sky for predators. The endangered birds depend on native coastal prairiegrasses for food and a place to hide from predators.

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The endangered Attwater’s prairie-chicken needs short grass to see other members of its species as well as predators. Biologists rotate cattle grazing to simulate the bison that once kept the prairie trimmed.

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A heat lamp serves as a surrogate mother for this juvenile Attwater’s prairie-chicken at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Captive breeding efforts are the species’ only hope for survival.

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This captive-born chick resting in the hands of a biologist represents the last hope for the Attwater’s prairie-chicken. The species which used to number over a million strong is now down to a few dozen, holding out in small islands of Texas coastal prairie.

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Predators have coexisted for centuries with the Attwater’s prairie-chicken. In recent decades, shrinking habitat has left the grouse nowhere to hide, making predation a significant problem.

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A captive-born mother and chick wait in the safety of a pre-release pen. Once they ventured out into the wild, however, the mother was killed within two weeks by a raptor.

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This cattle pasture 40 miles from Houston is now the last booming ground or lek for the Attwater’s prairie-chicken. Between ten and twenty birds use this spot every year, but how long they can hold out is uncertain.

Photo: Julie Jensen Director of Marketing | WVC O: 866.800.7326 | D: 702.443.9249 | E: j.jensen@wvc.org

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