HomeOutdoorsNewsExpensive Efforts to Save Endangered Wild Chicken Appear to Be Failing in Colorado

Expensive Efforts to Save Endangered Wild Chicken Appear to Be Failing in Colorado

by Craig Garrett
Typical male courtship - stock photo

Experts believe that the wild chicken population in Colorado has fallen victim to climate change, despite efforts to save them. A $428,000 state project to move 205 lesser prairie chickens from Kansas in order to save them from extinction is failing, the Denver Post reports.

The states’ wildlife biologists and bird experts point to hotter, drier conditions as the primary cause for their decline. Federal authorities have cited climate change as a factor. CPW data show that the number of relocated wild chickens decreased from 139 in 2020 to less than 90 this year.

Even with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent grant of protection under the Endangered Species Act, experts say that the future prospects for the lesser prairie chicken and its cousins look slim. The other endangered bird species in question are the Greater sage grouse, Gunnison sage grouse, and greater prairie chicken— all of which appear to be struggling despite recent conservation efforts.

Jon Hayes is the executive director of the Audubon Society for the southwestern United States. He recently elaborated on the crisis. “We’re seeing the lesser prairie chicken as one of the first in the line of many climate casualties,” Hayes told the Denver Post. If global warming continues at its current rate, by the end of the 21st century, over 60% of bird species in North America will become extinct, according to scientists from the Audubon Society.

Wild chicken populations have dwindled over the past few decades

According to Hayes, these wild chickens and other grouse cousins in Colorado “are on the front lines of the battle.” As droughts become more prevalent, he advocates for large-scale land preservation as a means of helping these birds survive. Industrial activity led by humans has long put prairie birds in danger, including agriculture during the Dust Bowl era, oil and gas development, and even renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. “But, now, what we are seeing is absolutely the impact of the climate,” Hayes explained.

The rising temperatures have caused droughts to worsen, with rainfall now falling in fewer but more intense storms. This pattern prevents rainwater from seeping into the ground and recharging groundwater reserves, often resulting in less water being available to plants during periods of high evapotranspiration demand. The reduced vegetation also leads to reductions in insect populations, which are an important food source for wild chickens.

On Nov. 17, federal wildlife officials issued an official designation of the nation’s surviving lesser prairie chickens as “endangered” across Texas and New Mexico, and “threatened” in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas – the five states where these Chickens exist. For more than two decades now, wildlife advocates have been warning about their impending extinction.

At one time, there were hundreds of thousands of lesser prairie chickens living in Colorado and the surrounding four states. According to federal data, however, their numbers have decreased dramatically over the years; from 2014’s 45,000 chickens down to 27,000 today.