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Illinois Natural History Survey Ornithologist Receives Grant to Determine

"Who's the father?" for Hatchling Greater Prairie-Chickens



CHAMPAIGN, IL Do female Greater Prairie-Chickens from Kansas successfully mate with males from Illinois? That’s a question researcher Wendy Schelsky of the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) and her Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) colleagues are trying to answer.


As part of an ongoing recovery plan for the State Endangered Greater Prairie-Chicken, 150 male and 150 female chickens will be translocated from Kansas to Illinois in the coming years.  Schelsky and her colleagues have been monitoring the success of the translocated birds using radio telemetry and are now trying to determine if the females from Kansas prefer males from Kansas and the success of eggs from different matings.


In this study, funded in part by a grant from the Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund, paternity and hatching success will be determined for offspring of radio tagged females.


Typically only 10-30% of male Greater Prairie-Chickens get to mate, with the number of females being the limiting factor in population growth. If females are successfully breeding with Illinois males, future translocations may be able to focus on moving more females than males, saving time and money.


The Greater Prairie-Chicken is a native Illinois grouse that was once considered abundant across the prairie. Loss of prairie habitat to agriculture as well as nest parasitism by the introduced Ring-Necked Pheasant contributed to drastic declines. The Prairie-Chicken Foundation of Illinois was established in 1959 and since then more than 3500 acres of grasslands have been acquired and protected in Jasper and Marion Counties in an effort to preserve the Prairie-Chicken. Despite habitat protections, by 1990, there were fewer than 100 chickens remaining and egg success had dropped to 38% due to inbreeding depression.  Aggressive pheasant control began in 1987 to decrease pressures from this exotic species and translocations of Greater Prairie-Chickens began in 1992.

Established in 1858, the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) mission is to investigate and document the biological resources of Illinois and other areas, and to acquire and provide natural history information that can be used to promote the common understanding, conservation, and management of these resources.  With a staff of over 200 scientists and technicians, it is recognized as the premier natural history survey in the nation.


ThePrairie Research Institute at theUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the home of the Illinois State Scientific Surveys: Illinois Natural History Survey,Illinois State Archaeological Survey,Illinois State Geological Survey,Illinois State Water Survey, and Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. Established by statute July 1, 2008 it builds on the Surveys' reputations for basic and applied research and service. With 700 employees and a budget of more than $65 million in applied science, the Institute is one of the largest institutes within the University. Prairie Research Institute scientists work to support economic development and natural and cultural resource sustainability for Illinois and beyond.








Wendy Schelsky

Illinois Natural History Survey

Prairie Research Institute

University of Illinois



Walk, Jeffery W. 2004. A Plan for the Recovery of the Greater Prairie-Chicken in Illinois. University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois. Office of Resource Conservation, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Springfield, Illinois 72pp. 

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