Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge

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The Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge is located approximately 40 miles southwest of Katy, Texas.  Between my two horse shows at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center, I took a half day to check it out.

The refuge includes a visitor center with a variety of stuffed birds and a movie about the Attwater prairie chickens, a 4-mile auto loop and two short trails, 1.2 miles and 0.8 miles.

I visited with my priority being to walk Annie but was disappointed to find that the lek, where the prairie chickens boom, is off limits to the public!  What a bummer since the booming season (or courtship ritual) was just beginning.  It lasts from February to April.

butterfly at attwater prairie chicken national wildlife refuge

Attwater Prairie Chickens

The males erect their tails, droop their wings, inflate their orange air sacs, lower their heads to deflate their sacs and let out a low sounding noise while stomping their feet on the short grass flats, making a booming sound.  They charge at other males while they attract the females.  That would be a sight to see!

The excited ranger said they just returned from the lek and saw three males.  As a result, they doubled their count to six. They also spotted some females, but they cannot differentiate between them.

Six males didn’t seem like much since the refuge is named for them.  But I soon found out, the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge was established specifically to protect the critically endangered birds who once flourished in Texas and Louisiana, with up to a million. 

The bird has lost its coastal habitat, and the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge has been working actively to recreate it.  The staff manages prescribed burns, plants native grasses, and even grazes cattle to replace bison that once roamed the area.

At any rate, the females select a male, mate, and then go off to nest within a mile of the booming ground.  Only 30% of the nest escape predators like opossums, coyotes, and snakes. If the nest is destroyed early in the season, it will mate again.

Hikes at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge

After my quick lesson on the Attwater prairie chicken, Annie and I set out on our hike.  We connected the 1.2 mile Sycamore Trail with the 0.8 Horse Shoe Lake Trail

The Sycamore Trail begins at the visitors center, crosses the auto loop, and pass through the grasslands into the trees which line a small creek.  The first signs of spring emerged with few pink wildflowers dotting the mowed grass path and butterflies swarming the flowering bushes near the visitors center. 

I loved seeing the butterflies, and it gave me a chance to practice some photography ahead of my trip to Morelia, Mexico to see the monarch butterfly migration.  I’m so excited for that…stay tuned!

The 0.8 Horse Shoe Lake Trail follows the south shore of Horse Shoe Lake before looping back through some trees to the bridge.

On this winter morning in February, it was a brisk, lovely day.  In the summer, however, be prepared for 100 degree days with little shade.

After our walk, I put Annie back in VANgo, and we took the 4-mile auto tour along the gravel road.  It had a ranch type feel with cows, fencing, and a windmill.  We also spotted a deer when we arrived, but I didn’t have my camera ready for that capture.

In all, we enjoyed a great morning at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, especially since we had the entire place to ourselves as we explored!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

10 thoughts on “Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge

  1. It has been a few years since I visited Attwater but I remember the silence and the blue sky. I did hear some of the ‘chickens’ but got a better view of an unusual snake. Beautiful butterfly and shots.

      1. We lived near an estate in Scotland that had grouse for shooting. They liked to hide in our garden so the noise is very familiar. We once had 11 pheasants in our trees to escape the Italian shooters. Pheasants 11 – Italians 0.

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