Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) are a striking and charismatic bird that derives their name, food and shelter from the sagebrush on which they depend. Both males and females are a mottled, brownish-gray. White chest feathers and specialized head feathers distinguish males during the spring breeding season. Males also have long black tail feathers with white tips, while female tail feathers are mottled black, brown, and white.
Sage-grouse are the charismatic ambassador for the Sagebrush Sea, a little known but critically important western landscape that supports hundreds of fish and wildlife species. A classic umbrella species, sage-grouse need large expanses of healthy sagebrush grasslands and functioning hydrologic systems to survive and flourish. Conserving sage-grouse will benefit a host of other species in the Sagebrush Sea, pronghorn, elk, mule deer, native trout, and nearly 200 migratory and resident bird species.
While sage-grouse will feed on wildflowers, insects and forage crops in spring and summer, they depend on sagebrush for food year round, and especially in winter when sagebrush is the only available food source.
Did You Know?
Sage-grouse were once prolific in the West. Native Americans celebrated the species, and explorers, settlers, and government surveyors reported seeing huge flocks of the birds.
The total population is estimated between 200,000 and 400,000 sage-grouse in the U.S.
Range & Habitat
Greater sage-grouse are a widely distributed but sparsely populated species that occur in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, with remnant populations in Washington, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The species has been extirpated in Nebraska and Arizona. A genetically distinct population of sage-grouse occur near Mono Lake along the border of east-central California and southwestern Nevada.
Sage-grouse are low, fast fliers. But they also have relatively poor eyesight. Sage-grouse commonly collide with barbed wire fences, guy wires for wind turbines and other obstructions that are difficult to see, often with fatal consequences.
The sage-grouse mating ritual is fascinating to observe, and often described as among the most stirring and colorful natural history pageants in the West. In early spring, at dawn and often at dusk, sage-grouse congregate on "leks"—ancestral strutting grounds to which the birds return year after year. Leks vary in size from one to 40 acres and may be up to 50 miles from the birds’ winter habitat. To attract a hen, cocks strut, fan their tail feathers and swell their breasts to reveal bright yellow air sacs. The combination of wing movements and inflating and deflating air sacs make an utterly unique "swish-swish-coo-oopoink!"
Hens nest under sagebrush, screened by tall grasses. They will lay a clutch of 6-10 eggs. Chick survival is reduced by poor habitat quality and is one of the limiting factors in sage-grouse population growth.