SAGE GROUSE: THEIR HABITS
The sage grouse (Centrocerus urophasianus) is a large chicken-like land bird that is dependent upon sagebrush-grassland habitats throughout western North America. Both male and female are grayish in color, with a black belly and long pointed tail. The males of the species usually weigh four to seven pounds, and are considerably larger than the female. They are distinguished by a white breast and black throat. Females, which range in weight from two to four pounds, are drabber in color and lack the yellow pouches that males inflate during courtship.
Sage grouse are currently found
from southwestern Canada in the north; the Dakotas to the east; and in the
west they extend south and east into the intermountain
Although still being studied, much of the birdís decline can be attributed to loss of habitat, and fragmentation and degradation of habitat. Sage grouse are dependent upon sagebrush; however, they prefer a mix or mosaic of habitat types that they use seasonally. Populations suffer when the mix gets out of balance, such as when sagebrush stands age, or lack the grasses and forbs grouse need for food and cover, or when development and urbanization alter or destroy habitat.
In the spring, sage grouse start to gather on strutting grounds known as leks. Leks are generally found in open areas that are sparsely vegetated, such as meadows and grassy openings, or man-made sites like roads and airstrips. During the spring mating season, in hopes of attracting females for mating, males dance on the leks, putting on an impressive display of strutting and tail-fanning, while inflating pouches in their chest and making distinctive popping noises.
After mating, hens leave the
strutting grounds to nest. Most nests are found under sagebrush with a grass
understory that protects the nest from both predators and the elements.
Females normally lay six to nine greenish colored eggs that take 28
Breeding success and brood survival is highly dependent on the availability of quality food and cover. Sage grouse need abundant insects for forage, grasses and forbs, combined with a mix of big and low sagebrush sites for cover. As spring becomes summer and the food plants mature and dry, sage grouse move to areas that support succulent vegetation. Moist grassy areas and upland meadows, native or irrigated, are an important part of the birds summer brood habitat. The drier the summer, the more important these green areas become.
Sage grouse form flocks as
brood groups break up in early fall and then slowly make their way to winter
ranges. Consumption of sagebrush increases as forbs dry and die. During the
winter months, sage grouse will feed almost exclusively on sagebrush.
As with all wildlife species,
quality habitat is the key to sage grouse survival.
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