Texas Prairie Dog Towns
I spent some time this spring observing Prairie Dog towns.
I wanted to see what diversity the towns had among themselves and what
birds and animals were attracted to them.
I checked six towns in the Trans-Pecos and 30 towns in the panhandle.
The Trans-Pecos towns were in the vicinity of Marathon. The
panhandle towns were in the following areas; Lubbock, Muleshoe,
Hereford, Canyon, and Texline. Click
here for a map.
There were certainly a variety of types of towns, flora among them, and
fauna within them. Most of the large towns, present on the
mid-1990s orthophotos are gone today and a few new ones have sprung
up. The general trend looks like a decline in total Prairie Dogs
over the last 10 years. There looks to be far less large towns
but about as many small ones as before. Most towns are pretty
new. It looks like the towns start and grow to a landowner
tolerance level and then are wiped out, usually when they reach 40
acres or so in size. A few were about a square mile in size but
most were a few acres to 20 acres in area. Click here for an
example of the changes west of Hereford.
Flora within the towns varied with the age of the town and the general
location. Up around Texline the towns were overgrown with prairie
grasses. This year the grasses have been growing faster than the
Prairie Dogs can keep them cropped. Around Canyon and Buffalo
Lake about half of the towns contain grasses and flowers that are over
6 inches high, hiding some of the burrows and the prairie dogs
themselves. Around Hereford the towns are mostly overgrown,
mostly exterminated but one old town remains. It is covered with
high solid yellow flowers so that most of the animals cannot be seen
but they are numerous. Most towns by Hereford are recognizable by
the yellow flowers that have been encouraged by the prairie dogs.
Further south by Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge almost all the prairie dogs
have been exterminated and most remaining towns are small, new and just
now being carved out of the thick grasses. The exception is the
town on the south side of the town of Muleshoe that is an old
colony. There the Prairie Dogs have been able to keep the grass
pretty short. The Muleshoe town colony is in relatively sandy
soil for Prairie Dogs. Most colonies are in higher clay soil
where burrows are less prone to caving in. Down at the east side
of Lubbock the
Prairie Dogs are plowed over daily. I spotted a town in a field
and could not get my car turned around fast enough to look at it before
a tractor with tiller drove over and set about covering them up.
The towns around Lubbock are impoverished temporary burrows, moving
with the plows and have no particular flora associated with them.
Click here for cropped prairie
grass near Texline.
Click here for diverse flora in a
town near Dalhart, (Texline area)
Click here for wildflower covered
prairie dog town, where flowers grew
faster than the square mile of prairie dogs could crop them.
Additional animals seen in the Prairie Dog towns of the panhandle
Badger, Cottontail and Jackrabbit. These species actually
preferred the town, staying almost entirely within them. I forgot
to take any Cottontail photos. Some Cottontails were settled
into Prairie Dog burrows with just ears and eyes sticking out but most
were scampering about. I did
not see either Kit Fox or Coyote within the towns although I did watch
coyotes lope through the prairie nearby on two occasions. Flattened
snakes on the roads by the towns were mostly Rattlesnake.
Click here for Badger.
Click here for Jackrabbit.
I saw 25 species of birds within the towns. Birds
that seemed to prefer the Prairie Dog towns to the surrounding habitat
were Burrowing Owls, Upland Sandpiper, Long-billed Curlew, Swainson’s
Hawk, and Lark Sparrow.
The most common birds of the Prairie Dog towns in the Texline vicinity
were Lark Bunting, Western Kingbird, Horned Lark and Western
Meadowlark, in that order.
The most common birds in the Canyon-Buffalo Lake Prairie Dog towns were
Western Kingbird, Horned Lark and Western Meadowlark.
In the Hereford area the towns had Western Kingbird, Horned Lark,
Cassins’ Sparrow and then Western Meadowlark as most common.
At Muleshoe the common birds were Western Meadowlark followed by
The Lubbock area had Western Meadowlarks, grackles and Horned Larks.
The most unusual bird within the Prairie Dog towns was a roosting
female Mallard duck that spent the night under a cholla cactus, miles
from any water. She flew off at sunrise.
Click here for photos of common birds.
Click here for Burrowing Owl.
Click here for Long-billed Curlew.
Click here for Swainson's Hawk.
Click here for Upland Sandpiper.
Click here for a bird list of Texas
Panhandle Prairie Dog towns.
In the panhandle I saw 52 Burrowing Owls distributed among the 30 towns.
In the Trans-Pecos I saw about 12 Burrowing Owls among the 6 towns.
The Prairie Dog towns seem to concentrate birds and animals. Here
is one example.
Following is a short list of the visible fauna of one panhandle town as
seen from one spot at sunrise:
Prairie Dogs 873 (visible at the surface)
Western Kingbird about 35
Horned Lark about 25
Western Meadowlark about 20
Lark Sparrow about 10
Mourning Dove about 10
Cassin’s Sparrow about 8
Burrowing Owl 5
Long-billed Curlew 1
Swainson’s Hawk 1
Common Raven 1
At sunrise, most Prairie Dogs stopped their scurrying around, stood up,
and watched for the sun’s disc to appear on the horizon. Then
returned to their activities. The Badgers became less active with
sunlight but remained out a while longer.