How Remote-Sensing effects Prairie Chickens in Kansas

Shane Touslee and Wesley Henson
Spring 2013
ES 351: Introduction to Geospatial Analysis
Dr. James Aber, Instructor

Lesser Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) - Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido)

Images adapted from Wikimedia Commons.

Table of Contents
Greater and Lesser
Prairie Chickens
Role of GIS in Mapping
Kansas Prairie Chickens
GIS Applications
References About this Webpage Fair Use Statement


Conservation of both greater and lesser prairie chickens in Kansas and across their range has been of great importance for decades. Recently though, GIS and remote sensing have become excellent tools in the cause. Maps of leks, habitats, and probable habitats can be made rather easily and distributed to managers and conservationists even easier. These maps are incredibly valuable for project and management planning.

Greater and Lesser Prairie Chickens

Kansas is home to two species of prairie chicken, the greater (Tympanuchus cupido) and the lesser (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). As the names imply the lesser is the smaller of the two, and both are native to Kansas. Both species are dwindling in numbers but the lesser prairie is chicken is under a much greater threat than the greater; thus it is in the review period for being listed as an endangered species. The greatest threat to prairie chickens is habitat fragmentation. In Kansas we happen to have the largest remaining fragment of tallgrass prairie in the country. This tallgrass prairie is home to some of the largest populations of greater prairie chicken that remain in all states that hold them.

The habitat of the lesser prairie chicken is sandsage type landscape in the southwest portion of the state, and that landscape holds the largest population of lesser prairie chickens in the country. We also have populations in short and mixed grass type prairies like the Redhills of Kansas. Greater and lesser prairie chicken habitat is threatened in Kansas by fragmentation via: invasive trees, agriculture, grazing, road building, wind farms, building/home construction, etc. Another great threat to our habitat for prairie chicken in KS is drought, especially in the sandsage type habitat of the lesser. As you can see, not only is our habitat under threat, our habitat is also crucial for the survival of prairie chickens. This is due to the fact the in Kansas we hold some of the largest populations of greater and lesser prairie chicken.

Role of GIS in Mapping Kansas Prairie Chickens

Since prairie chickens are rare birds and are being reviewed for the endangered species list, it is important to know where their habitats are so they can be protected. One of the biggest issues with lesser prairie chickens, LPC’s, is that they avoid nesting or brooding near man-made structures such as buildings, power lines, and paved roads. Research by Kansas State University, using radio-telemetry, has suggested that communication towers, wind farms, and urban expansion could become problematic, based off other species avoiding these structures. Some power companies are not happy with the regulations to protect prairie chickens. A power line planned to be built from Dodge City, Kansas, to Oklahoma, would cross a LPC population of 140 birds. To reroute the power line, it would cost $567 million, or $4 million per bird. This is a prime example of why mapping prairie chickens is so important.

Map 1. This map shows the present ranges of both species of Prairie Chickens in Kansas.
Another danger for prairie chickens is the loss and division of grasslands.
What this means, is that roads or agriculture fields are cutting off prairie chickens,
from their roosts and leks, and making their habitats smaller. (Houts, Rogers, Applegate, & Busby, 2008)

Map 2. The range of lesser prairie chickens has diminished drastically since human inhabitation of the Great Plains.
This can be shown with the Image above that shows damage to habitats in Kansas Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico,
the present range of lesser prairie chickens, and the historic range of lesser prairie chickens. (KU, SGP CHAT)

GIS Applications

Data for mapping the ranges of prairie chickens can be made by identifying the possible habitat ranges for prairie chickens. Then acquiring distributions of prairie chickens from regional experts, who specialize in the birds, and know where prairie chickens live. Also surveying land owners who have land that could support prairie chickens, would be another good way of identifying possible flocks of birds and their leks.

One study of prairie chicken populations used aerial remote-sensing to map and estimate populations of prairie chickens, along with locating new lek sites. To survey the birds they created a grid of 536 blocks, measuring 15 kilometers by 15 kilometers, over the range of lesser prairie chickens, shown in Map 3. The grids were flown with a Raven II by Robinson Helicopter Company. The grids were flown north to south, or vice-versa, from sunrise to 2.5 hours after sunrise. The helicopter had an altitude of 25 meters, at 60 kilometers an hour. It was found that flying over leks would scare the birds off, but they would return after an average of 7 minutes. By conducting fly-overs of the grid area, a total of 3,174 lesser prairie chicken leks were found.

With the data acquired, we can use imaging software, such as Arc Map, to create maps to show land tracts with buffer zones around them to locate new populations of prairie chicken, and to prevent the construction of any man-made structures that would disrupt the habitat of the birds. Map 4, would be an example of the type of map that would show the range, places of habitation, and buffer zones around habitat.

Map 3. This map show the 15 kilometer by 15 kilometer blocks, that formed the search area.
The 48.27 kilometer (30 mile) buffer zone is in place to locate new populations of prairie chickens. (WEST, 2012)

Map 4. Map acquired from experts in Prairie Chickens.
This map shows the range of prairie chickens, along with potential habitats,
and 1 mile buffer zones around those habitats. (Houts, Rogers, Applegate, & Busby, 2008)


Geospatial information systems and remote-sensing, have become important tools in the conservation of prairie chickens. These tools allow reserchers to create better maps for land owners and developers in areas habited by prairie chickens. These skills remain important as the cost of having this information too late can mean the distruction of habitat, or millions of dollars worth of increased costs to build around lek sites and habitats. With the lesser prairie chicken in the review process for being on the endangered species list, it becomes even more clear that having the ability to see and know where prairie chickens live is important to their conservation efforts.


Cost to route around Kansas prairie chickens? Millions. (2011, May 16).
Retrieved from
(Everyly, 2011)

Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken. (2006, January 2).
Retrieved from
(KDWPT, 2006)

Greater Prairie Chicken. Wikimedia Commons.
Retrieved from,_USA_-male_displaying-8_(1).jpg

Lesser Prairie Chicken. Wikimedia Commons.
Retrieved from

Results of the 2012 Range-wide Survey of Lesser Prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicintctus). (2012, September 14). Retrieved from
(WEST, 2012)

Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool. (2013, April 25).
Retrieved from

Using Local Knowledge and Remote Sensing to Map Known and Potential Prairie-chicken Distribution in Kansas. (2009, August 9).
Retrieved from
(Houts, Rogers, Applegate, & Busby, 2008)

About this Webpage

This website was created by Shane Touslee and Wesley Henson: May, 10, 2013. It was created to fulfill an assignment for an undergraduate Introduction to Geospatial Analysis course from Emporia State University, The ESU Earth Science Department can be found at: We can be contacted at: and Last updated May 10, 2013.

Fair Use Statement

This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. I am using such material available for scientific learning, research, education, etc. that is believed to constitute ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: Cornell Law. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.