Photo by Cody Duty for the Houston Chronicle
Unfortunately, the problems for the Prairie Chicken do not end when they are released. In fact, you could say they only begin, because as the manager of the wildlife refuge told the Chronicle reporter, "Everybody likes chicken." They face predation from hawks, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, snakes, raccoons, even fire ants. Truly, everybody, it seems, does like to snack on chicken, and that makes survival extremely iffy for them. In the wild, the luckiest of the birds might live for four years.
In order to have a sustainable population of Prairie Chickens, there needs to be a statewide population of at least 3,000 birds that is stable over a five year period, according to wildlife experts. Obviously, we are a long, long way from achieving that, but dedicated scientists and wildlife conservationists doggedly carry on, hatching the eggs, raising the chicks, releasing them, and hoping for the best.
If they need encouragement, they might look to the west where a long-term captive-breeding program has managed to bring the California Condor back from the brink of extinction. Although the huge vultures still face many dangers in the wild, mostly from human activities related to hunting (e.g., lead shot left in animals killed by hunters that the birds then feed on and occasionally being shot by hunters themselves), they do seem on the road to recovery. Let us hope that, within our lifetime, we will be able to say the same for the little Prairie Chicken.