BIRD OF THE WEEK: 4/17/2015 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Centrocercus urophasianus
POPULATION: 150,000 individuals
TREND: Decreasing
HABITAT: Sagebrush country in the western United States and Canada: has declined over 50% in past 50 years

Greater Sage-Grouse map, NatureServe

Range of Greater Sage-Grouse. Map by NatureServe

Each spring heralds a unique spectacle in sagebrush country. Year after year, male Greater Sage-Grouse congregate on ancestral mating grounds known as leks. The birds strut, fan their tail feathers, and swell their breasts to reveal bright yellow air sacs while making a weird assortment of booming, swishing, and popping noises – all to attract a hen.

Oil and gas development, overgrazing, sagebrush removal, invasive plants such as cheatgrass, and wind energy have degraded this bird's habitat.

Greater Sage-Grouse also sometimes collide with barbed wire fences and guy wires, often with fatal consequences, and will avoid habitat near tall structures like towers and power lines.

Sage Country's Umbrella Species

Greater Sage-Grouse need large expanses of healthy sagebrush habitat to thrive. This grouse's digestive system is adapted for eating sagebrush, which makes up most of its diet from autumn through early spring and is an important food item during summer as well.

Hens nest under sagebrush, where they lay a clutch of 6 to 10 eggs. But poor habitat quality diminishes chick survival and is one of the limiting factors in sage-grouse population growth.

The Greater Sage-Grouse is an “umbrella” species: Efforts to conserve the grouse and its habitat benefit many other species, including Brewer's and Sage Sparrows and the Sage Thrasher. (Find out about the other birds of sagebrush country.)

Greater Sage-Grouse hen by cjchiker, Shutterstock

Grouse's Struggle for Survival

The Greater Sage-Grouse's population remains at risk. In 2014 a rider was signed into law preventing – at least temporarily – the bird's protection under the Endangered Species Act. The threat of this rider continued in legislation as recently as 2020.

New threats continue to emerge. Court battles have been waged to try to preserve sage-grouse management plans put in place in 2015, which were crafted by a bipartisan group of Western governors, ranchers, community members, and conservationists. These plans aimed to protect core areas for the species and improve management of the grouse's remaining habitat on public lands.

Since then, the current federal administration has sought to replace the 2015 plans with weakened versions that allow for oil and gas development; however, as recently as early 2020, a judge has canceled leases for energy development on some grouse lands, at least temporarily.

You can support federal protection for the Greater Sage-Grouse and encourage strong management plans for public lands by sending letters to administration officials and your representatives in Congress.

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