Full nesters

Greater sage-grouse are not migratory birds, but they do move about within their local habitat depending on the season and stage of their life-cycle. Once a hen successfully mates, she takes to less bustling areas that meet the specific needs of the next life stage: nesting

Mating takes place in the open, but if taller, thicker, undisturbed vegetation is not close by, hens won't find what they need to build a nest, safely lay their fertilized eggs and remain in place until these eggs hatch. 

healthy sagebrush habitat with Big sagebrush, native grasses and flowering plants
USFWS/Jennifer Strickland

Male sage-grouse are most vulnerable on the lek, but females are most at-risk on the nest, where their single focus is bringing their eggs safely to hatch. Hens and incubating eggs are targets for predators, who detect them by sight or smell. 

a greater sage-grouse hen in covering vegetation
Female sage-grouse are capable of laying fertilized eggs at one year of age, but lack of experience
in choosing and maintaining a nesting site affects the chances for a successful hatch. | USFWS/Tom Koerner

Female sage-grouse lay 6 to 8 eggs, one per day, in ground-level nests. Sometimes, a hen will build this year's nest within a few feet of where she had success the previous year but always under the best available cover of sagebrush and native grasses that have begun to appear. 

For 4 weeks, a hen will leave her nest only once or twice a day, typically at the same time each day, to eat and relieve herself. Males also return to denser cover by the end of May to rest and find food, but they play no part in nest-tending. Their work is done until next spring's breeding season. 

Hens will continue to take shelter and lead their surviving chicks to find food in this type of vegetation in the weeks that follow hatching. 

The sage thrasher also breeds in sagebrush habitat. After migrating back from winter habitat in the southwest, these birds build their nests in the tallest, densest sagebrush shrubs they can find, to hold 4 or 5 eggs that both parents tend during 12 days' incubation and after hatching. 

a sage thrasher nest deeply hidden in a sagebrush bush
A sage thrasher's nest is hard to spot, at least for human eyes. Speckled turquoise-colored shells
are visible at the center of this mature sagebrush. A sage thrasher male defends his nesting territory
the same way he attracts a mate – with seemingly tireless singing. | USFWS/Tom Koerner

The BLM's plans for protecting sagebrush habitat that greater sage-grouse, sage thrashers and more than 350 other species of animals, insects and plants depend on involve limiting activities that spread invasive plants, increase wildfire or otherwise disturb the surface of designated habitat areas. 

GET INVOLVED | The BLM has proposed a range of options for strengthening protection of sagebrush habitat on public lands. Review and comment on the draft environmental analysis of these options through June 13, 2024. 


Heather Feeney, Public Affairs Specialist

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