It was at the turn of the century that a million Attwater’s prairie-chickens thrived along the Texas Coast. But the loss of coastal prairie habitat over the years has impacted the population. Today, with so little of its home remaining, their
numbers are critical.
Jared Judy : “They’re about as close to extinction as they can get without being extinct.”
Jared Judy manages the Nature Conservancy’s Prairie Preserve in Texas City. 23-hundred acres of coastal prairie habitat, it is host to one of the last two remaining populations of the federally endangered Attwater’s Prairie Chicken.
“They’re on the brink and they have been for the past five to ten years and, really the releases of these captive bred birds have been the only thing that’s kept the population going.”
Judy says they received 12-birds from the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler and 4 from the Houston Zoo as part of the program.
“Each bird has a radio collar fitted on them and with this, we’re able to identify what kind of habitat that they’re using on the preserve and hopefully, create more of that habitat for next year’s release, so that these birds can use more of the preserve.”
In addition to being fitted with radio collars, the birds are weighed and measured, and dusted for parasites. That operation was supervised by Mike Morrow. He’s a wildlife biologist with Attwater’s prairie chicken National Wildlife Refuge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Morrow noticed the birds a little feisty.
“You like to see them respond in a manner that tells us they’re not accustomed to being around humans and other potential predators so, yeah we like to see birds with spunk.”
The birds were released into “acclimation pens” on the Texas City preserve. Morrow says after two weeks, the pens will be open, but with food and water still inside and accessible.
“All told for the season we’ll be releasing about 240 birds at three sites, and a hundred will go to private property in Goliad County. The Nature Conservancy and the Fish and Wildlife Service have been working with private landowners in that area, and they have consented to allow us to release birds in that area. So, we’re excited about that.”
Morrow and Jared Judy of the Nature Conservancy say they’re optimistic the bird’s decline in population will eventually reverse.
“In the last two or three years we’ve seen developments in the program that get all of us very excited with the first releases down in the Goliad and Refugio counties, which in all honesty, is the future of the program at this point. And the longer this program goes, the more variables we can knock at the equation, and more we do that, the closer we’re getting to the answer of getting these birds to thrive.”
PH, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.
From left to right: Brenda Davis and Marie Lloyd with the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler assist Mike Morrow biologist with Attwater’s prairie chicken National Wildlife Refuge in preparing APC for release.