AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Texas ranks fourth in the U.S. for the number of endangered animals, according to a previous report on MyHighPlains.com. A number of those animals travel through or make their home in the High Plains region.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a species of plant or animal is considered endangered when they become so rare they are in danger of becoming extinct. Threatened species are plants and/or animals that are likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has listed some of the animals that migrate through or make the Texas Panhandle home.
Ferruginous Hawk – Listed as a species of concern
The ferruginous hawk is listed by the state as a species of concern and the federal government is awaiting additional information before deciding if the species should be given federal status as an endangered or threatened species.
The largest hawk in North America, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said the hawk ranges over much of the western half of the US. Historically, the species breeds in Texas, but that is no longer the case today. A pair of nesting birds today is more likely supported far into the northwestern Panhandle said TPWD.
TPWD said the widespread control of prairie dogs, a vital food source of the hawk, is a potential factor for the decline in the species.
Lesser Prairie Chicken
Previously reported by MyHighPlains.com, in early 2023, Oklahoma Senator James Lankford and his colleagues requested that the species listing be delayed, citing that voluntary conservation efforts of the species have proven successful. On Jan. 25, the Biden administration delayed legal protections for the species until March 27.
The lesser prairie chicken’s range covers a portion of the Permian Basin along the New Mexico-Texas state line and extends into parts of Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The habitat of the bird, a type of grouse, has diminished across about 90% of its historical range states an earlier report on MyHighPlains.com.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “the lesser prairie-chickens decline is a sign our native grasslands and prairies are in peril. These habitats support a diversity of wildlife and are valued for water quality, climate resilience, grazing, hunting, and recreation.”
Whooping Crane – Endangered
A species with a migration path that takes it through a part of the panhandle, the whooping crane has been listed as endangered since 1970. The crane has three populations that exist in the Kissimmee Prairie of Florida, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and a very small captive-bred population in Wisconsin.
According to TPWD, the population that exists at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is currently the only population of the species that migrates. The bird migrates throughout the central portion of Texas from the eastern part of the Panhandle to the DFW area and south through the Austin area to the central coast during October, November, and again in April, said the department.
Sightings of the now rare bird can be reported to Texas Parks and Wildlife on its Texas Nature Tracker. As of December 2019, TPW said the Whooping Crane Conservation Association reports that there are nearly 700 wild Whooping Cranes and another 153 in captivity.
Black-Footed Ferret – Endangered
The Black-Footed Ferret has not been seen in Texas since 1963 said the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The ferret listed as endangered since 1967 historically made its home in the High Plains, Rolling Plains, and Trans-Pecos regions.
According to TPWD, the ferret relies on prairie dogs for food and shelter making up 90% of its diet. Scientists estimate that over 100 million acres of western rangelands were occupied by prairie dogs in the early 1900s and the prairie dog occupied much of that same area.
TPWD said the species is endangered citing that much of the shortgrass prairie that makes up its habitat has been plowed for crops Its main food source, the prairie dog, has been reduced due to habitat loss and disease as well as having been killed to protect grass and winter wheat crops.
Black-tailed Prairie Dog – Candidate
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Black-tailed Prairie Dog has an important role in the prairie ecosystem. The prairie dog serves as a food source for the many predators in the region including the Black-Footed Ferret and leaves vacant burrows for the burrowing owl, the Texas horned lizard, rabbits, hares, and even rattlesnakes.
“Although it is true that large concentrations of prairie dogs can damage cultivated crops or compete seriously with livestock, the wisdom of eliminating them entirely from rangelands has not been proven,” said the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
TPWD said the prairie dog is still common, today, though less than 1% of its population and habitat remain.
Palo Duro Mouse – listed by the state as threatened
A species that calls the steep, rocky, canyon walls home, the Palo Duro Mouse is only in three counties in the world, Randall, Armstrong, and Briscoe Counties said Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The largest populations are known to exist in Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyon State Parks. A relatively secretive creature, the mouse is known to eat mainly the seeds of juniper, mesquite, and prickly pear cacti.
The mouse has been listed by the state as a threatened species.
Texas Kangaroo Rat – listed by the state as threatened
The Texas Kangaroo Rat is found in north-central Texas from Cottle and Motley counties in the west to Montague County in the east.
The rat lives in underground dens at the base or root of small mesquite trees and only comes out at night. The Texas Kangaroo Rat is listed as “threatened” by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with its primary threat being the clearing of the mesquite brush to which it is restricted.
Texas Horned Lizard – listed by the state as threatened
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Texas Horned Lizard, “Horny Toad”, is listed by the state as a threatened species. The lizard’s home extends from the south-central U.S. to northern Mexico, through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico.
A species that could once be seen across many parts of the state has now thrived in some parts and is scarcely seen in others, according to a 10-year report by Texas volunteer scientist that tracked sightings of the animal.
Texas Parks and Wildlife said residents can get involved in seeing what is contributing to the decline of the species on its website.
A search of rare, threatened, and endangered species, broken down by county, can be found on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website.