Sage-Grouse in Balance : Predators

Story by Heather Feeney, BLM Public Affairs Specialist 
Photos courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service   


Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) are one of more than 350 species that inhabit the sagebrush-steppe ecosystems of western North America. Females hatched this spring will live up to seven years; males will live an average of three years. 

While some birds die from disease or collisions with fencing, wildlife biologists say that they generally don't die of old age. Sage-grouse are prey: the length of an individual bird's life is determined by how long it can evade encountering other animals -- predators -- that sit higher in the ecosystem's food chain. 

 

A male Greater sage-grouse displays to attract female attention
A male’s shorter life expectancy is directly related to behavior during spring lekking. The bold displays that attract potential female mates do the same for predators. Lek activity is essential for the species to reproduce but leaves individual males particularly vulnerable.  (Photo: BLM/Bob Wick) 
A Greater sage-grouse hen in covering vegetation
Females are similarly at-risk during their focal time in the breeding cycle: they mostly die on the nest, when they are least able to flee from predators or when they may resort to distraction displays that draw predators away from their eggs or chicks.
Greater sage-grouse camouflaged in sagebrush
Healthy vegetation is the best defense against predators at all times. Sagebrush shelters nests and newly hatched chicks, and provides cover year-round to both females and males, regardless of age. Other native grasses and flowering plants further screen the birds from view and either serve as direct food sources or support insects that can be eaten. The fewer the gaps in the canopy, the less space and time to be in a predator’s sights.


The BLM is responsible for sage-grouse habitat on public lands, and so, we don't have authority to take direct actions to control predator populations. In addition, science shows that predator control measures are less effective and durable than identifying, conserving and restoring habitat and managing other uses of the land to avoid altering the vegetation and introducing novel predators. 

 

A badger, a golden eagle and a coyote
Sage-grouse are not the primary prey of any one predator, and where the ecosystem hasn’t been altered, the species is adapted to predation by coyotes, badgers, golden eagles and other raptors.
A raven, a red fox and a striped skunk
Ravens, red foxes and skunks are novel predators of sage-grouse: they follow humans into sagebrush ecosystems. Their presence itself has a limited direct effect on sage-grouse populations. Rather, it’s an indication that the ecosystem has been altered, with possible consequences for the vegetation that grouse need for cover and food.

 


 

With a commitment to improving outcomes for Greater sage-grouse, the BLM is evaluating the plans adopted in 2015 to manage sagebrush habitat on public lands. Monitoring data and new scientific information published since 2015 will help us determine whether there are other steps we should take to benefit sage-grouse and people in communities across the West who also rely on a healthy sagebrush-steppe. 


READ | Scoping Report for 2022 Habitat Conservation Planning