What is a Sage-Grouse?
Some decisions have been made recently that will have serious ramifications for the future of the Greater Sage-Grouse. The wrangling of politicians, conservationists, and special interests warrants discussion, but first, we should consider the bird itself.
The Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is a handsome bird in the family Phasianidae. Distributed throughout 11 western states and two Canadian provinces, greater sage-grouse are gorgeous creatures, as evidenced in the National Wildlife Federation photo above. Boldly dressed in black, brown, and white, males boast long, sharp tail feathers and dazzling display plumage. During mating season, they sport fancy filoplumes and inflatable mustard-colored throat pouches. Females are adorned with a modest, mottled brown pattern that affords them excellent camouflage in their traditional grassland habitat.
The greater sage-grouse was considered conspecific with the Gunnison Sage-Grouse (Centrocerus minimus) until 2000, when the two were declared separate species by the American Ornithological Union. The Gunnison grouse is substantially smaller than the greater sage-grouse and its meager population is restricted to seven counties in Colorado and one in Utah.
The sage-grouse is all about sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), an aromatic, woody shrub with silvery leaves. Not only does the grouse subsist primarily on sagebrush, almost exclusively in some seasons, but they subsist in sagebrush. Sage grouse depend on healthy sage grasslands, especially dense stands of brush, for shelter and protection. The sage also sets the stage for grouse love; in the spring, males congregate at traditional display grounds called leks to begin their spectacular courtship rituals. Although a lek could be an open area from a plowed field to an airstrip to a gravel pit, it is often a clearing in the sagebrush. Stands of sage with 15-25% canopy densities and abundant grass and forbs (small flowering plants) offer sage-grouse the greatest nesting success.
Enjoy some of these fascinating sage-grouse facts:
- Either or both species of sage-grouse has also been called the northern sage-grouse, western sage-grouse, cock of the plains, sage cock, sage hen, sage chicken, sage fowl, spiny-tailed pheasant, and spine-tail grouse.
- The greater sage-grouse is the largest North American grouse, though not the largest galliform. Its mating ritual is also considered the most ornate and competitive of all grouse courtship displays.
- Adult sage-grouse have dark-green toes.