An Animal of the High Desert - Greater Sage Grouse

Once abundant throughout the western United States and some portions of Canada, the sage grouse have experienced drastic declines and can now be found in only a handful of areas. Sage grouse populations have been affected by a multitude of factors including reduction of habitat through agriculture and commercial/residential developments, livestock grazing, fire as well as environmental factors such as weather. 

Greater sage grouse are the largest of the North American grouse, with males weighing 4-7 pounds and females weighing 2-4 pounds.  Adult males are dark with a white breast.  Females are brown with a black belly.

Sage grouse are highly dependent on sagebrush for forage, nesting and protection throughout the year.  Ninety-nine percent of the sage grouse winter diet consists of sagebrush leaves and buds.  At other times of the year, they eat forbs (small flowering plants). In the summer, insects are also part of their diet, especially for young grouse.  Sage grouse do not require open water for day-to-day survival if succulent vegetation is available.

Each spring, males and females gather at a lek in late March through May, as soon as the lek is relatively free of snow.  Leks (mating grounds) are usually open areas such as meadows, low sagebrush, or even roads surrounded by sagebrush.   Up to a hundred males may gather at a single lek.  Their mating display is one of the most complex of any grouse.  Males spread their plumage, strut and inflate air sacks located on their breast, producing a distinctive “popping” sound to attract females and protect their territory from other males.

After mating, the males take no part in nest building or parenting.  Females build a nest on the ground, usually some distance (up to several miles) from the lek site where they mated, and lay an average of six to nine eggs. Young birds are precocial, leaving the nest soon after hatching. They receive some parental care from the female, but are capable of feeding on their own. By two weeks, they are capable of making short flights.

The degradation and outright destruction of sagebrush areas has already greatly reduced the historic range of the Greater sage-grouse, and continued habitat disturbance could result in this species' listing as a federally threatened or endangered species. The final decision on whether the Greater sage-grouse should be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) originally due in May 2009, has been delayed pending new information about the species and its habitat. Publication of this new information is currently expected during the summer of 2009.


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