A Prairie Native At Risk
The Gunnison sage-grouse lives only in southwest Colorado and a small corner of southeastern Utah. Only recently recognized as a separate species, it is estimated that Gunnison sage-grouse have lost nearly 90% of their historic range. Now confined to eight isolated populations, this extremely rare species faces extinction from development threats. Habitat loss from urban development and habitat degradation from oil and gas drilling, mining, off-road vehicle use, and road construction is taking a heavy toll on this species.
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. Thus, Gunnison sage-grouse are considered an indicator species for the ecosystem they call home — that is, the decline in Gunnison sage-grouse populations is indicative of poor land management practices across the sagebrush sea of the Interior West.
The Gunnison sage-grouse is about one-third the size of the greater sage-grouse, and the males have darker feathers and tall plumes on the top of their heads. They eat sagebrush almost exclusively during winter, and small flowering plants in other seasons. Very young sage-grouse depend on eating grasshoppers, beetles, and ants. They can live up to five years, with an average lifespan of a year and a half. 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. 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. The Gunnison sage-grouse makes its home south of the Colorado River in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah.
-Colorado Division of Wildlife Species of Concern
-Forest Service Sensitive Species
-BLM Sensitive Species in Colorado
-Utah Conservation Agreement Species
-Endangered Species Act Candidate Species
Rocky Mountain Wild works with a coalition of conservation partners, including the biologists who discovered the Gunnison sage-grouse, to protect the bird and its declining sagebrush habitat. In September 2010, the Gunnison sage-grouse was placed on the Endangered Species Act Candidate list. This decision falls short of the level of protection these highly imperiled birds truly need, but is a step in the right direction. While we wait for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to summon the resources necessary to formally protect the grouse, we continue to monitor and challenge threats to the remaining populations of this rare bird. We have succeeded in blocking mining projects and oil and gas development in occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat.
LISTEN to the Gunnison Sage-Grouse’s call