An Animal of the High Desert -
Greater Sage Grouse
Once abundant throughout the western
United States and some portions of Canada, the sage grouse have
experienced drastic declines and can now be found in only a handful
of areas. Sage grouse populations have been affected by a multitude
of factors including reduction of habitat through agriculture and
commercial/residential developments, livestock grazing, fire as well
as environmental factors such as weather.
Greater sage grouse are the largest
of the North American grouse, with males weighing 4-7 pounds and
females weighing 2-4 pounds. Adult males are dark with a white
breast. Females are brown with a black belly.
Sage grouse are highly dependent on
sagebrush for forage, nesting and protection throughout the year.
Ninety-nine percent of the sage grouse winter diet consists of
sagebrush leaves and buds. At other times of the year, they eat
forbs (small flowering plants). In the summer, insects are also part
of their diet, especially for young grouse. Sage grouse do not
require open water for day-to-day survival if succulent vegetation
spring, males and females gather at a lek in late March through May,
as soon as the lek is relatively free of snow. Leks (mating
grounds) are usually open areas such as meadows, low sagebrush, or
even roads surrounded by sagebrush. Up to a hundred males may
gather at a single lek. Their mating display is one of the most
complex of any grouse. Males spread their plumage, strut and
inflate air sacks located on their breast, producing a distinctive
“popping” sound to attract females and protect their territory from
mating, the males take no part in nest building or parenting.
Females build a nest on the ground, usually some distance (up to
several miles) from the lek site where they mated, and lay an
average of six to nine eggs. Young birds are precocial, leaving the
nest soon after hatching. They receive some parental care from the
female, but are capable of feeding on their own. By two weeks, they
are capable of making short flights.
The degradation and outright
destruction of sagebrush areas has already greatly reduced the
historic range of the Greater sage-grouse, and continued habitat
disturbance could result in this species' listing as a federally
threatened or endangered species. The final decision on whether the
Greater sage-grouse should be protected under the Endangered Species
Act (ESA) originally due in May 2009, has been delayed pending new
information about the species and its habitat. Publication of this
new information is currently expected during the summer of 2009.