As their name suggests, sage-grouse need sagebrush habitat to survive. Greater sage-grouse currently inhabit sage-steppe ecosystems in eastern Montana, southern Idaho, northeastern California, eastern Oregon, northwestern Colorado, and broader sections of Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.
Sage-grouse use sage-steppe habitat year-round, but it is critical for their survival in winter and spring. In cold months the birds shelter under mature sagebrush. In spring, males and females congregate on leks – large, open flats surrounded by sagebrush – to breed. Males strut with tail feathers fanned, swishing their wings, and inflating the air sacs on their chests with rhythmic huffing that can be heard from a mile away. Individual birds often use the same lek year after year.
After mating, hens fly 4-15 miles from the lek to nest and rear their broods. Research shows that hens nest within the same 2 or 3 square yards (meters) every year. When sage-grouse return to find a familiar lek or nesting area disturbed, they show little ability to adapt to the changes or to find substitute habitat.
As the American West has become more and more urbanized over the last 100 years, sage-grouse populations have declined due to loss, degradation or fragmentation of habitat. Today, there are about 40% fewer sage-grouse than in the 1970s occupying only 56% their historic habitat.