Greater Sage-Grouse

Posted by admin - May 11, 2006 - Birds - No Comments

Greater sage-grouse are being studied as an umbrella species to find out how protecting the sage-grouse’s habitat can protect as many as 39 other sagebrush-associated vertebrate species of concern. USFWS image.

Protecting the sage-grouse’s habitat can protect as many as 200 other vertebrate species. USFWS image.

A Western Icon At Risk
Once abundant throughout the west, the greater sage-grouse is threatened by loss of its sagebrush habitat, including loss from oil and gas development, sprawl, human destruction of sagebrush, and invasive weeds like cheat grass. When habitat damage takes place due to one of these activities, sagebrush ecosystems can take 25-100 years to recover. As the sagebrush ecosystem is destroyed, so is the bird’s primary source of food and shelter, as well as the setting for its traditional courting ritual. Studies suggest there has been a decrease of 70-90% in overall abundance of the bird, and they are at even greater risk of reduced genetic variation due to this severe population decline.

Natural History
The greater sage-grouse is a grayish-brown bird between 22 and 30 inches long. Males display a white chest and black throat, while the female is very well camouflaged in its environment. The birds have an average lifespan of 1.5 years but can live up to five. Sage-grouse eat sagebrush almost exclusively during winter, and forbs (small flowering plants) in other seasons. Very young sage-grouse depend on eating grasshoppers, beetles, and ants.

The sage-grouse’s ornate and competitive mating ritual is considered to be the most elaborate of the grouses. Each spring, males gather at their traditional courtship location, called a lek. Leks are open areas of prairie next to dense stands of sagebrush, and grouse use them for decades. Up to a hundred males may gather at a single lek. During mating displays, males inflate large mustard-colored throat pouches with air, and puff out their collar of bright white feathers, all while making cooing and popping noises to attract the females.

Greater sage-grouse habitat in northwest Colorado.

Greater sage-grouse habitat in northwest Colorado.

Conservation Status
-Colorado Division of Wildlife Species of Concern
-Forest Service Sensitive Species
-BLM Sensitive Species in Colorado
-Colorado Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy Science Forum Species of Most Concern
-Partners in Flight Priority Birds
-Wyoming Species of Special Concern
-Utah Species of Concern

Action Taken
In March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that the greater sage-grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, due to a lack of resources they declined to take action at that time, instead adding the sage-grouse to the Candidate list. Though the Service’s decision falls short of full protection, it is an important step, as Candidate status does afford the species some protective measures. Most important of these is that agencies are compelled to take steps to prevent further declines of the greater sage-grouse.

Rocky Mountain Wild plays a key role in the coalition of groups working to implement large-scale, comprehensive strategies to protect this dwindling species throughout its range. We partner with state wildlife agencies, the Bureau of Land Management, bird experts, and conservation groups to devise creative, win-win solutions to stem further declines in greater sage-grouse populations and set the species on a path to recovery.

LISTEN to the Greater sage-grouse’s distinctive call

Greater Sage-Grouse Fact Sheets (from January 2010)

High-resolution Greater Sage-grouse Photos
Greater Sage-grouse in California (USFWS image) (717 KB)
Greater Sage-grouse (USFWS) (1.6 MB)
Greater Sage-grouse Habitat in Northwest Colorado (783 KB)
Male Greater sage-grouse (2 MB; credit
Greater Sage-grouse in Winter (2 MB; credit
Greater Sage-grouse in Flight (3 MB; credit
Greater Sage-grouse in Flight (4 MB; credit

High-resolution Greater Sage-grouse Range Maps

Historical vs. Current Sage-grouse Range (966 KB)
Sage-grouse Range in Colorado (1.7 MB)

Greater Sage-grouse Footage

Greater Sage-grouse on the Lek (.mp4 file) (64 MB) — Broadcast quality
Greater Sage-Grouse on the Lek (.wmv file) (10 MB)

Greater Sage-grouse 2-18-10 Press Teleconference

Recording (20 min) Featuring Sportsmen, Ranchers, Scientists Discussing Future of Sage-Grouse (mp3 file) (2 MB)

Read More

Petition to List Greater Sage-Grouse as Endangered or Threatened
USGS early release of the Sage-Grouse Monograph (Studies in Avian Biology)
A Blueprint for Sage-Grouse Conservation & Recovery
Guidelines to Manage Sage-Grouse Populations & Their Habitats
Comments on the Draft Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan
WAFWA Greater Sage-Grouse Report
District Court Ruling on Denial of Protection to Greater Sage-Grouse
Federal Court Overturns Bush Administration’s “Not Warranted” Listing Decision for Greater Sage-Grouse
Grouse Pardon Request to President Bush

Learn More
Sage-grouse and Ravens
See the Sage-grouse in Action!
The Sage-grouse Fembot!