The greater sage-grouse is a large grouse with a chunky, round body, small head and long tail. Males change shape dramatically when they display, becoming an almost spherical shape, as they puff up their chest, droop their wings and fan their tail into a starburst.
Habitat loss, fragmentation and alteration have resulted in population declines and in some areas local extirpation. Primary causes of habitat loss and fragmentation include the altered wildfire cycle due to the establishment non-native invasive plants, and human activities, like energy development, transmission lines and rural subdivisions. Sage-grouse numbers have likely declined since the settlement of the western United States. Declines have been documented since regular monitoring of the species began in the 1950s, which reflects the widespread loss, alteration or fragmentation of the vaststeppe on which this species depends. Since the late 1960s, numbers have declined by an average of 2.3% per year, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Noise, and the human presence associated with human activities within sagebrush, is also thought to result in indirect, but negative impacts to greater sage-grouse, including limiting habitat use, lek attendance and reducing species productivity in affected areas. For more information about this species, including occurrence, conservation strategies and recovery actions in specific states or regions, refer to the Sage-Grouse Conservation Assessment and Strategy for Oregon, which was lead by Christian Hagen and published in 2011 by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many partners.
Females make bowl-shaped nests scraped into the soft soil. They line them with leaves, grasses and forbs, small twigs, and feathers that the female plucks from her breast. Nests tend to have at least two directions that are not heavily vegetated, which presumably function as possible escape routes for incubating females.
Sage-grouse are mottled gray-brown with a black belly. Males have a black head and throat. The breast has a fluffy white ruff that, during displays, surrounds a pair of inflatable, yellow air sacs. Females have a dusky cheek patch emphasized by white markings behind the eye.
Sage-grouse are emblematic of thesteppe of the Intermountain West, which is their only habitat. They are widespread across the sagebrush plains but are sensitive to disturbance. In early spring they gather on patches of open ground known as leks, where males display to females. Leks are located in clear areas such as broad ridgetops, grassy swales, dry lakebeds and sometimes recently burned areas. Adult hens lead their growing chicks to areas with good forage, including irrigated pastures, wet meadows and alfalfa fields, in addition to sagebrush.
Sage-grouse eat leaves, buds, flowers, forbs and insects. Leaves, primarily of, dominate their diet throughout most of the year. However, in the first three weeks after hatching, chicks cannot digest sagebrush, so forbs and various insects, including beetles, grasshoppers and ants, especially, make up the bulk of their diet. Dandelions and other forbs are important for females as they prepare for egg-laying.
The greater sage-grouse breeds in western United States, with their range covering portions of Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. They may be residents throughout the year or migrate seasonally. Movements vary dramatically because of differences associated with several factors, including seasonal habitat quality and weather.
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