All in a day's walk: Sage-grouse in summer

Story by Heather Feeney, BLM Public Affairs Specialist
Photos by Tom Koerner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, except where noted
  

In summer, the sun rises early in a cloudless blue sky above sagebrush country, and school is in session for broods of Greater sage-grouse.   

Greater sage-grouse hen and chicks on a ridgecrest
A sage-grouse hen and her brood on a summer’s day in southwest Wyoming


Half a dozen chicks have hatched in a typical nest and remain vulnerable to predators: coyotes & badgers, among other mammals, eagles & hawks from above.

The chicks themselves are hungry and thirsty. 

Young sage-grouse chicks huddle in the shade of sagebrush
Recently hatched Greater sage-grouse chicks (Gerrit Vyn/Cornell Lab of Ornithology)


The chicks grow, and their mother begins leading them afield. As during nesting, they need tall vegetation – for protection and shade, and as a source of food. 

A young sage-grouse in mixed sage-steppe vegetation
A growing chick finds nourishment in sagebrush and other rangeland vegetation.


Sage-grouse eat the summer leaves and flowers of sagebrush, grasses and forbs. Plants whose leaves and stems are overly coarse or prickly host insects and spiders that are palatable and nutritious. The occasional anthill is another good find.  

An anthill shows scratchings of sage-grouse looking for food
Scratchings left behind from a Greater sage-grouse digging for Western harvester ants


Finding food and water while evading predators and other hazards is the order of every long day. Effects of wildland fire, drought and climate change can complicate the search.   

GRSG eat summer vegetation and drink at a water source


By late summer, the birds often range into wet meadows adjacent to the sage-steppe, where forbs, insects and water are easier to find.  

A sage-grouse feeds in tall grass and forbs in a wet meadow
Wet meadows capture moisture and slowly release runoff and groundwater.


The brood’s day may end with a dust bath on the way to night roosting. 

A sage-grouse brood takes a dust bath in late afternoon

 

In SEASON: Lands for a thousand dances | All the better for nesting
LEARN MORE: Next steps for sage-grouse | More than the numbers | According to plan | A year in the life