Sensitive Species

 


Greater Sage-grouse

Centrocercus urophasianus 
 

male sage-grouse with tail fanned

Greater sage-grouse stand up to 2 feet tall and weigh between 2 and 7 pounds.  Females (hens) are smaller and mottled brown, black and white.  Males are more colorful and have spiked tails and large white ruffs around their necks.  Their most distinctive feature may be bright yellow air sacs on the chest, which they inflate during courtship displays.


female and male sage-grouse in profile

The hens' less showy coloring helps hide them from predators, especially when they have young to protect.

Chicks are precocial – their eyes are open when they hatch, and they can leave the nest within 2 days.  Hatchlings are covered in soft down feathers that also help camouflage them from predators.


 

sage-grouse graphic element 
NEWS


 sage-grouse life cycle graphic - CLICK to enlarge


Habitat

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.


researcher holding sage-grouse hen

In March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that listing the Greater sage-grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act was warranted but that other priorities precluded action at that time.  The Service will re-examine the situation in 2013 to determine whether listing the Greater sage-grouse is more urgently needed at that time. 

The Service specifically recommended that the BLM improve regulations and management measures in its land-use plans to protect sage-grouse habitat.  The Bureau is currently revising these plans for all sage-steppe lands it manages, to build in consistent conservation measures and on-the-ground actions that will conserve – or better still, improve – remaining sage-grouse habitat on public lands.