Prairie chicken populations declining in Kansas

In three decades, the population of prairie chickens in the Flint Hills of Kansas has dropped almost 90 percent on the area's eastern edge and 50 percent elsewhere, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks studies show.

The decline suggests other prairie birds also are in trouble, wildlife biologists say. The chickens' decline can start a domino-like fall, cascading toward the eastern meadowlark, Henslow's sparrows, grasshopper sparrows and others. Annual prairie burning, close grazing, invasive trees and the encroachment of civilization are all factors in the decline.

"Prairie chickens are right at the top of our list for species we're concerned about," said Ron Manes of the Nature Conservancy of Kansas. "They are an excellent indicator of the health of the prairie."

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