Greater Sage Grouse

The Greater Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), also known as cock of the plains, logcock, prairie cock, heath grouse, and pheasant, is the largest of game birds except for the wild turkey. This grouse occurs throughout shrub-steppe habitat in 11 western American states and 2 Canadian provinces. Unlike Ruffed grouse, it prefers open areas in dry foothills and plains where sagebrush is plentiful as a source of food and cover. The buds and leaves of sagebrush form the main parts of its diet and provide nesting material and roosting sites.

During their spring courship display, males become much more conspicuous. They fan their tails wide, ruffle up the showy white frill around their neck and breast and inflate air sacs on their breast. Females, known as sage-hens, are smaller and less striking. Their completely mottled, brownish plumage helps conceal them when sitting on the nest.

Sagebrush once covered the plains of the western United States and southern Canada, but millions of acres have since been cleared for farm land and development. As the sagebrush has steadily disappeared, so has the Greater Sage Grouse. It currently occupies approximately 56% of their historic range. The species is endangered in Canada (COSEWIC 2008). The Greater Sage Grouse is not listed in the US as federally threatened or endangered, although it was found to be warranted (United States Fish and Wildlife Service 2010).3


Greater Sage Grouse
Photo by Laura Johnston

Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis subsp. occidentalis) range expansion into sagebrush steppe ecosystems has affected both native wildlife and economic livelihoods across western North America. The conversion of sagebrush steppe to juniper woodland negatively affects greater sage-grouse by reducing sagebrush cover and the associated plants and insects that comprise the birds' diet. The potential listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the U.S. Endangered Species Act has spurred a decade of juniper removal efforts. 4

References

  1. Fish & Wildlife: Principles of Zoology and Ecology. L. DeVere Burto
  2. Birds of the World. Jason A. Mobley
  3. Incorporating within- and between-patch resource selection in identification of critical habitat for brood-rearing greater sage-grouse. Matthew R Dzialak et al.
  4. Western Juniper Management: Assessing Strategies for Improving Greater Sage-grouse Habitat and Rangeland Productivity. Shahla Farzan et al.