About the Greater Sage-Grouse
Greater Sage-Grouse stand up to two feet tall and weigh between two and seven 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. The male’s most distinctive feature may be bright yellow air sacs on the chest, which they inflate during courtship displays. 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 two days. Hatchlings are covered in soft down feathers that also help camouflage them from predators.
As their name suggests, Greater Sage-Grouse need sagebrush habitat to survive. They currently inhabit sage-steppe ecosystems in Montana, southern Idaho, northeastern California, eastern Oregon, northwestern Colorado, and broader sections of Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.
Greater 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 two or three square yards (meters) every year. They gradually move to moist areas such as stream banks and wet meadows during the brood-rearing phase to feed on the forbs and insects needed to ensure chick survival. When Greater Sage-Grouse return to find a familiar lek, nesting or brood-rearing 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, Greater Sage-Grouse populations have declined due to loss, degradation or fragmentation of habitat. Today, there are about 40 percent fewer sage-grouse than in the 1970s occupying only 56 percent their historic habitat.
No single factor is the cause of declining Greater Sage-Grouse populations. But the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Assessment identifies a number of factors that, since the beginning of settlement in the West, have adversely affected the number of birds and the amount, distribution and quality of sagebrush habitats:
• habitat loss and degradation
• sagebrush destruction
• habitat fragmentation
• woodland encroachment
• altered fire regimes
• weed infestation
• rehabilitation challenges
• pesticide applications
• built structures (water developments, fences, power lines, wind turbines, etc.)