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BLM California News.bytes 
News.bytes Extra, Issue 599 


BLM Interns Study Sage-Grouse Behavior and Habitat Preferences

As part of their Conservation and Land Management internship, two recent college graduates have been following the elusive sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). They hope to learn where the birds breed, nest and rear their broods.

BLM Intern Leah Nagel listens for sage-grouse to the south of Mono Lake. BLM photo
Intern Leah Nagel listens for sage-grouse to the south of Mono Lake.
(Photo by BLM)

Biologists Bridger Cohan, U.S. Geological Survey, and Leah Nagel, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, have been partnering with BLM staff to asses and track populations of sage-grouse in the Bi-State Distinct Population segment found in California and Nevada.

The spring surveys started off with counts of lekking males, but as some of the radio-collared females started to settle down for nesting, the season kicked into high gear. Staff from several agencies helped locate the exact shrubs that the birds were nesting under and monitoring the expectant mothers from a distance while they incubated their clutch.

Sage grouse strutting. Photo by Bob Wick, BLM
Sage-grouse male “lekking” or displaying with other males vying for female attention.
(Photo by Bob Wick/BLM)

After radio-telemetry indicated ‘momma grouse’ had left the area, the next step was to locate the empty nest and assess whether the clutch had been a success or fallen victim to a passing raven or other nest predator. Finally, a vegetation survey was conducted to characterize the species composition and height of plants at the nest site.  By determining the specific locations and plant communities that successful mothers choose for their nests, the BLM and its partner agencies can better protect similar habitats, and hopefully boost numbers of surviving chicks.

Photo of sage scrub with a nesting femaile sage grouse hidden in the shadow. Photo BLM
Time for a game of spot the sage-grouse!  Nesting famales are incredibly well camouflaged.
(Photo by BLM)

Now, with the chicks approaching maturity it’s time for a new season of tracking, determining where the collared birds are foraging via aerial and on-the-ground radio telemetry surveys.  It’s also time to collar new birds to add the body of data being collected, a process which involves spotlights, loudspeakers, nets and more than a bit of luck!

-- Bridger Cohan, Intern, Bishop Field Office (November 2013)

BLM California News.bytes, issue 599-- To subscribe to News.bytes, send an e-mail to: mailto:Join-Newsbytes@List.ca.blm.gov OR visit our News.bytes subscription page.

Last updated: 11-12-2013