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Greater Sage-Grouse

As the largest grouse in North America, they are known for their gular sacs, which give these birds a unique appearance.

The largest grouse in North America, the male Greater Sage-Grouse gathers on leks in the spring to display for females. Like some other grouse species, the Greater Sage-Grouse has been affected by habitat changes through fire, grazing, and oil and gas development.

Male Greater Sage-Grouse can be twice as large as females. The male’s long, pointed tail feathers and white ruff are used for springtime displays, while the female’s less showy plumage helps her to stay hidden while incubating her eggs


Description of the Greater Sage-Grouse


The Greater Sage-Grouse is a sagebrush grouse, with mostly brownish upperparts, a black belly, and a long tail.

Males have black throats and are much larger than females. They have a thin crest of filoplumes, and large, inflatable air sacs on the breast.  Length: 22-28 in.  Wingspan: 33-38 in.


Photograph © Alan Wilson.




Females have pale throats and are much smaller than females.



Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles resemble adult females.


Greater Sage-Grouse inhabit sagebrush with interspersed forbs and grassy areas.


Greater Sage-Grouse eat sage leaves and insects.


Greater Sage-Grouse forage on the ground.


Greater Sage-Grouse are resident in a large area of the Great Basin and northwestern U.S. The population has declined in recent decades.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Greater Sage Grouse.

Fun Facts

The related Gunnison Sage-Grouse was only discovered to be a separate species in the 1990s, and their small, endangered population is declining. They were previously considered to be conspecific with Greater Sage-Grouse.

Greater Sage-Grouse produce about 2 plopping sounds during display, compared to 9 by Gunnison Sage-Grouse.


Whooshing or plopping sounds are created during display.  Cackles and clucking calls are also given.


Similar Species


The Greater Sage-Grouse’s nest consists of a shallow depression lined with plant materials.

Number: Usually lay 7-9 eggs.
Color: Olive or buffy with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:

The young hatch at about 25-27 days, and leave the nest shortly after hatching, though associating with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Greater Sage-Grouse

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.


SAGE HEN [Current A.O.U. = Greater Sage Grouse]


The recent American Ornithologists’ Union check lists, both old and new, call this the sage hen, but I prefer to call it a gro’u8e, as it really is and as it was called in earlier editions. I see no reason for calling it a hen, except that the cackling notes of the female remind one of that familiar domestic fowl. It is a true grouse and a grand one, by far the largest of our American species and the largest in the world except the European capercaillie, which far exceeds it in size. A fully grown sage-grouse cock is said to weigh as much as 8 pounds, but the hen will not weigh more than 5 pounds, probably both usually weigh much less.

It was discovered by Lewis and Clark about the headwaters of the Missouri River and on the plains of the Columbia; they named it “cock of the plains” and gave the first account of it. The technical description of it and the scientific name, urophasianua, were supplied by Bonaparte in 1827.

The range of the sage grouse is limited to the arid plains of the Northwestern States and the southwestern Provinces, where the sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata and other species) grows; hence it is well named sage grouse or cock of the plains. Its range stops where the sagebrush is replaced by greasewood in the more southern deserts. Like the prong-horned antelope, another child of the arid plains, it has disappeared from much of its former range, us the country became more thickly settled and these large birds were easily shot. It has been said that the sage was made for this grouse and this grouse for the sage, where it is thoroughly at home and where its colors match its surroundings so well that it is nearly invisible while squatting among the lights and shades of the desert vegetation. It seldom wanders far from the sagebrush, but may be found occasionally in the shade of the narrow line of trees that marks the course of some small stream. Dwight W. Huntington (1897) describes its haunts very well, as follows:

I found the Sage Grouse most abundant in the vicinity of Fort Bridger and south to the Uintah Mountains. Here the tufted fields of the gray-green sage sweep up to the sides and walls of the adjacent “had lands,” or buttes, devoid of vegetation but beautiful in color and fantastic in form. The buttes are strangely fashioned by erosion, and are full of the fossil remains of animals and fishes. Numerous domes, spires, and pinnacles surmount the buttes and the conglomerate layers running about them have been compared to EgyptIan can tag. Towards the southwest are the blue Ulntah Mountains, with snow flashing on their crests all summer, and towards the east the vast plain of sage extends as far as the eye can reach, blending at the horizon into an azure sky. The trout streams which Issue from the mountain side become the small rivers of the plains, flowing at long Intervals and nourishing a narrow line of verdure or a yellow screen of cottonwood, which marks their course. It is along such streams that the sage grouse hunter must pitch his camp.

Courtship: Much has been written about the courtship Af the sage grouse, which is the most spectacular performance indulged in by any of the grouse. It has been variously described by different observers. Frank Bond (1900) was one of the first to describe and illustrate this with a drawing; he writes:

During the months of April and May the Sage Cocks are usually found in small flocks of a half dosen or more, stalking about with tails erect and spread after the manner of the strutting turkey cock, but I have never seen the Grouse dragging their wings upon the ground, turkey fashion, and In the manner described by Dr. Newberry in the quotation from this author found on page 406 of Dr. Cones’s “Birds of the Northwest,” nor have I ever found a wing of a Sage Cock in this or any other season, which exhibited the slightest wearing away of the primaries. Instead of dragging Its wings upon the ground the Sage Cock will enormously inflate the air sacks of the neck until the whole neck and breast Is balloon-like in appearance, then stooping forward, almost the entire weight of the body is thrown upon the distended portion and the bird slides along on the bare ground or short grass for some distance, the performance being concluded by the expulsion of the air from the sacks with a variety of chuckling, cackling or rumbling sounds. This performance is continued probably daily, during the pairing and nesting season, and of course the feathers are worn away by the constant friction.

William L. Finley’s account of it differs somewhat. IHe has sent me the following notes on the subject:

On May 18 we rose at 3.15 and were in the blind a little after 4, still very dark. The birds at this time were already strutting. We could hear them and occasionally see a flash of white from the breasts. The birds were active between 4.80 and 6.30 a. m. and had left the strutting ground by 8 a. m. When the sage cock starts to strut, his tail spreads and the long pointed tail feathers radiate out In a half arc. The air sacs are filled and extend nearly to the ground, hiding the black breast feathers. This Is the first movement. Then the bird takes one or two steps forward and throws up the pouch, apparently by drawing back the head and neck. The next movement is a repetition of throwing the air sacs up and down and getting under headway for the last toss of the pouch, which is brought down with a jerk, as one would crack a whip, making a “plop” that on a quiet morning we easily heard for a distance of 200 or 300 yards. The whole movement gives one the Idea that the bird Inflates the air sacs and then, by the rigid position of the body and throwing the head and neck back, gives these air sacs a very vigorous shaking. In the movement when the pouch spreads, the bare yellow skin on the lower part of the pouch or chest shows clearly. As the pouch is thrown up and down, the wings are held rigid, the tips of the wing feathers sometimes touching the ground. The white feathers that cover the chest are exceedingly stiff; these grate against the wing feathers, giving out a wheezy sound that at first I thought came from the Inhaling and exhaling of air. I soon discovered that this rasping noise was made by the stiff feathers rubbing together. This rubbing of the breast feathers against the rigid wing feathers seems to account for the very worn appearance of the breast later In the season. If there were any gurgling or chuckling noises I failed to catch them. As the strutting ends, the air sacs are deflated and each time the bird goes through the motion as if gulping or swallowing something.

There were 56 cocks scattered around in an area of 4 or 5 acres, each bird having a space for himself. Occasionally when one bird came too near another it resulted in a fight. Once I saw two fight with lowered heads. Occasionally they would jump in the air, striking very much as an ordinary rooster strikes. Two or three times I saw a female feeding near by, where the males were strutting. One passed by several cocks, but they paid no attention to her, or she to them. This gave me the impression that the strutting was not so much a courting performance or even a nuptial. dance; It seemed to be a gathering place where the males came together and “showed off~~ among themselves.

E. S. Cameron (1907) observed:

By ruffling up all their feathers, spreading their tails, and dragging their wings along the ground they looked much larger than they really were, while they produced a rattling sound with their quills after the manner of turkeycocks and peafowl.

Some additional information is given by L. E. Burnett (1905), who writes:

I have heard them drum as early as December. This performance is most often observed where hundreds of males and females have congregated together, a custom which they have in the fall of the year. By February, the males are all drumming, but this is not continued during bad weather which closes the session until fair weather returns. By the latter part of the month the males are in full dress. Their protracted meetings last until the first days of May. After the violets and buttercups have come and the song of the sage thrush begins, their drumming is heard but occasionally. When drumming they stand very erect, holding the wings away from the sides and nearly perpendicularly, while the large loose skin of the neck is worked up, and the head drawn in and out until the white feathers are brought to the chin, At the same time the galls are filled with air until the birds look as if they were carrying snowballs on their shoulders. Then the skin which lies between the galls is drawn in with a sucking movement, thus bringing the galls together or nearly so. With this action the air is expelled from the throat producing the noise, which is hard to mimic and which resembles that of an old pump just within hearing distance. After the bird has accomplished this feat he walks away a few paces either in a straight line or a circle, with wings down, hanging loosely, but not grating on the ground. At times they do drag the wings as they strut along with tail spread and erect, though not so perpendicular as that of a turkey. Again they will dance about with all the pomp of a male pigeon.

Maj. Allan Brooks (1930) says that “the feathers of the breast and neck of the male sage grouse are specialized feathers only” and are not worn away by rubbing on the ground during the display.

Nesting: Major Bendire (1892) says:

The nest is always placed on the ground, in a slight depression, usually under the shelter of a small sage bush. I have found several, however, some little distance from sage brush flats, alongside and sheltered by a bunch of tall rye grass (EL ymus condense tus?), near the borders of small creeks. The nest is usually very poorly lined, and in fact the eggs frequently lay on the bare ground without any lining whatever, and are often found in quite exposed situations. I found such a one on May 11, 1875. My notes read as follows: “I stumbled accidentally on this nest. It was placed within a yard of a much-used Indian trail, in a very exposed position, so much so that I saw the eggs while still 5 yards off. There really was no nest, simply a mere depression scratched out by the bird on the south side of a very small sage bush, which afforded no concealment or protection from rain whatever. The bush itself was not over a foot and a half high, growing on a rocky plateau about 3 miles east of Camp Harney. A few feathers were scattered among the eggs which laid on the bare ground, and were separated from each other by bits of grass and dry leaves of the sage. One of the eggs was nearly covered with dirt and almost buried out of sight. The set contained eight eggs, and these were nearly hatched. They were cold when found, and the nest had evidently been abandoned for some days.

Blustrating the concealing colorations of the close-sitting bird, Bendire quotes Capt. William L. Carpenter as follows:

I found a nest at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, where this species Is numerous, June 1, wIth nine fresh eggs. I was standing alongside a sage bush watching butterflies; several times looking down carelessly without seeing any thing unusual, when happening again to glance at the foot of the bush, In the very place before observed, I saw the winking of an eye. Looking more intently a grayish mass was discerned blending perfectly with the color of the bush, which outlined itself Into the form of a Sage Hen not 2 feet from my foot. She certainly would have been overlooked had not the movement of her eyelids attracted my attention. I stood there fully five minutes admiring the beautiful bird, which could have been caught In my butterfly net, then walked back and forth, and finally passed around the bush to observe It from behind. Not until then did It become frightened and fly away with a loud cackling. The nest was a depression at the foot of a sage bush, lined with dead grass and sage leaves. The spot was marked and visited several times, always passing within a few feet without alarming the bird.

D. E. Brown tells me of a nest found by a sheep herder. The bird did not flush from the nest until the sheep were all around her; she then flushed with a great noise, scattering the sheep in all directions. ‘This habit may often prove very useful in preventing cattle from trampling on the eggs.

Eggs: The number of eggs laid by the sage grouse usually varies from 7 to 9, in some localities from 10 to 13; as many as 15, or even 17, have been found in a nest.. Bendire (1892) found but one set of 10, and found more sets of 8 than any other number. They vary in shape from ovate to elongate ovate, and the shell is smooth with little or no gloss. The ground colors vary from pale “ecru-olive” or “deep olive-buff to “yellowish glaucous,” ” olive-buff,” or “green ish white.” They are generally quite evenly marked with small spots and fine dots of dark brown, “bister,” or “brownish olive”; in very light-colored eggs the spots are in very pale shades of brown or olive. The markings are very easily washed off when the eggs are fresh. The eggs in a set are seldom, if ever, uniform in type; there are usually two or more conspicuously different types in each set. The measurements of 110 eggs average 55 by 38 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 59.5 by 39.5, 58.5 by 40.5, 51 by 37, and 58.5 by 35.5 millimeters.

Young: Bendire (1892) gives the period of incubation as 22 days. This duty is performed by the female alone, as the polygamous males desert the females as soon as the eggs are laid and associate in flocks by themselves. Consequently the full care of the young rests on the devoted mother. Mrs. Irene G. Wheelock (1904) writes:

Like all grouse nestlings, they run about as soon as the down is dry, which Is about fifteen minutes after the shell breaks. They pick up food at her scratching all day, and at night they nestle on the ground under her wings, only a row of little heads being visible. As soon as their own feathers are developed, they sleep every night In a circle about her, each one with head pointed to the outside as before, and always on the ground; for the Sage-Grouse never trees. It Is not difficult to come upon a brood sleeping this way on a moonlight night; but the only satisfaction will be to hear the sharp alarm of the mother, a whirr as she runs by you, and a knowledge that though the young are hiding on the dust at your feet, you could not find them were your eyes tenfold sharper. I have groped carefully on hands and knees among them, and actually touched one before I saw it at all. For the desert hides Its secrets well, and the little grouse have learned to trust to it for safety.

Grinnell, Bryant, and Storer (1918) say:

After the young birds have learned to fly, they descend from the uplands down along the larger canons, often invading the meadow lands, where small tender weeds are added to their diet. At such places the young birds may gather Into large flocks. When approached they crane their necks and make a weak attempt at cackling. When closely pressed they run rather than fly. By the last of August or early September the young birds are Joined by the old male birds, which come off the higher slopes and ridges where they have stayed during the summer, and large flocks become the rule.

Plumages: The sage-grouse chick is well colored to escape detection when crouching on the ground in the gray shadows of the desert. The crown, back, and rump are mottled and marbled with black, dull browns, pale buff, and dull white; the sides of the head and neck are boldly spotted and striped with black; there are two large spots of “sayal brown” bordered with black, on the fore neck or chest; underparts grayish white, suffused with buff on the chest.

The juvenal plumage comes in first on the wings, while the chick is very small, then on the scapulars, back, tail, sides of the breast, and flanks, lastly on the rump, head, neck, and belly. The juvenal plumage is much like that of the adult female; but the breast is more buffy and more spotted than barred; the feathers of the black breast patch are tipped with white; and the feathers of the mantle are conspicuously marked with a broad shaft streak of white. Young males seem to be much darker than young females.

A nearly complete postjuvenal molt, including all but the outer two primaries on each wing, produces the first winter plumage, which is practically adult and in which the sexes are fully differentiated. There may be a partial prenuptial molt, but I have seen no evidence of it in either young or old birds. Adults have a complete postnuptial molt, mainly in August.

Food: Dr. Sylvester D. Judd (1905a) says:

The feeding habits of the sage grouse are peculiar, and its organs of digestion are unlike those of other grouse. The stomach is not differentiated into a powerful grinding gizzard, but is a thin, weak, membranous bag, resembling the stomach of a raptorial bird. Such an organ is evidently designed for the digestion of soft food, and we find that the bulk of the sage grouse’s diet consists of leaves and tender shoots. A stomach collected September 7, 1890, in Idaho, by Dr. C. Hart Merriam, contained leaves of sage and other plants, seeds, and a ladybird beetle (Coccinellldae). Four birds shot in Wyoming during May and September by Vernon Bailey had gorged themselves with the leaves of sagebrush (Artem48i4 tridentata). This and other sages, including A. cana and A. frigi4a, furnish the bulk of the food of the sage grouse. Other taken, but it is comparatively insignificant. B. H. Dutcher, formerly of the Biological Survey, examined a stomach which, besides sagebrush leaves, contained seeds, flowers, buds of Rhu8 trilobata, and ants and grasshoppers. Three birds collected by Vernon Bailey on September 5, in Wyoming, had varied their sagebrush fare with ladybird beetles, ground beetles (Carabidae), fly larvae, ants, moths, grasshoppers (Melanevjus sp.) and the leaves of asters and yarrow. Of two birds killed In May, one had fed wholly on the leaves of sagebrush (Artemieta trid,entafii), while the other in addition had taken insect galls from sagebrush and the flowers and flower buds of a phlox (PhZoz douglaaii), together with some undetermined seed capsules, pieces of moss, and several ants. A third bird, killed in July, had eaten a few plant stems and numerous grasshoppers.

During the winter the sage grouse feeds almost entirely on the leaves of the sage, but “in summer,” according to Bendire (1892), “its principal food (in Wyoming and Colorado) is the leaves, blossoms, and pods of the different species of plants belonging to the genus Astragalua, and Vida, commonly called wild pease, which are always eagerly sought for and consumed in great quantities.”

Robert S. Williams reported to Bendire from Montana that he scared up a flock among tall grass in a mountain meadow; one of these birds had its crop full of the blossoms of a species of goldenrod. Bendire also quotes George H. Wyman as stating that a sage grouse will go a long way for food in a wheat field; some that he examined had traveled at least 8 miles to fill their crops with ripe wheat.

Behavior: Dr. D. G. Elliot (1897) says:

It is not always easy to flush these birds, as they will run long distances before taking wing, and skulk and hide at every opportunity. But when forced to rise, they flush with a great fluttering of the wings and utter a loud kek-kek-ke1~, which kind of cackle is kept up for quite a considerable time. They seem to have difficulty in getting well on the wing, and rise heavily, wabbling from side to side as If trying to gain an equilibrium, but once started they go far and fast enough, with intermittent quick beats of the pinlons and easy sailing on motionless wings.

Mr. Finley refers in his notes to their morning flights for water, as follows:

September 22, Horsfall and I were up at 4.40 a. in., left the cabin at 5.40, just as it was getting light. As we walked down the long draw, through which Warner Creek winds back and forth, we saw sage grouse coming in to water. They came from the rimrocks and higher plateaus, perhaps from several miles away, as some of them sailed down from high over the rimrock, showing that they had come from a second high rimrock about a mile back. They came in singles, in small flocks of from 8 to 10, occasionally larger flocks numbering 30 or 40. They lit out in the open at 100 or 200 yards back from the creek, and then walked down to water. In a short distance I counted 150 birds. From the cabin down to a small reservoir, where the water was backed up covering several acres of ground, there must have been 1,500 to 2,000 birds. Around the reservoir site there was also a larger number. It was the same along the creek above the cabin, where it winds through meadow and sagebrush. The grouse do not frequent the water at all during the middle of the day, and we found very few toward evening. They seem to come in before daybreak, and a little after many have departed for the high plateau, by 6 o’clock or before sunrise. By 8 o’clock all had departed.

Bendire (1892) quotes Dr. George Bird Grinnell as stating:

On a very few occasions I have seen the Sage Grouse standing on the branches of a sage bush, sometimes 2 or 3 feet from the ground, but I imagine that this Is quite an unusual position for the bird. This species, commonly, I think, goes to water twice a day, flying down to the springs and creek bottoms to drink in the evening, then feeding away a short distance, but roosting near at hand. In the morning they drink again and spend the middle of the day on the upland. The young birds, when feeding together, constantly call to one another with a low peeping cry, which is audible only for a short distance. This habit I have noticed In several other species of our Grouse, notably in the Dusky Grouse and the Sharp-tall.

Coues (1874) quotes from Doctor Newberry’s account, as follows:

A very fine male which I killed there xvas passed by nearly the whole party, within thirty feet, In open ground. I noticed him as soon, perhaps, as he saw us, and waited to watch his movements. As the train approached he sank down on the ground, depressing his head, and lying as motionless as a stick or root, which he greatly resembled. After the party had passed I moved toward him, when he depressed his head till It rested on the ground, and evidently made himself as small as possible. He did not move till I had approached within 15 feet of him, when he arose and I shot him.

And from Mr. Holden, Coues quotes:

They roost in circles on the ground. I have seen a patch of ground fifteen feet in diameter completely covered with their excrement. I think they resort to the same place many nights in succession, unless disturbed.

Voice: The vocal efforts of the sage grouse seem to be limited to a deep guttural clucking note, A,uk, ku/c, ku/c, slowly repeated as the bird flushes, a rapidly repeated scolding note, tuk-a-tulc, and a. cackling note of the female, like the cackle of a domestic hen. The chicks call to one another with faint peeping notes.

Enemies: Sage grouse have been found to be infested with tapeworms and probably they are also infected with some of the other parasites and diseases to which other grouse are subject. The eggs and young are preyed upon by various predatory animals and birds, mainly crows and magpies, but their worst enemy is man. Natural enemies of all wild creatures have merely checked their increase, but when man comes on the scene it means extermination. So it is with this fine large grouse, an easy mark for the gun. It has been extirpated from much of its former range and is disappearing very steadily in many other places.

Sandys (1904) relates the following incident:

One day I was watching an old male which had taken up a position upon an almost hare knoll. It was before the open season, a very idle period on the plains; so, partly to pass away time, and partly in the hope of discovering something, the field-glass was brought into play. Before the bird had been thoroughly scrutinized, some fnlcon, which looked like a male peregrine, shot Into the field of vision, and made a vicious stoop at the huge quarry. Whether or no the grouse had been watching the hawk is impossible to say, but In any event he was ready. As the hawk was almost upon him, up went the long tall, down went the head, and the wings were a trifle raised. Most readers, probably, have seen a man hump his hack and get his shoulders about his ears when he expected to be struck from behind hy a snow-ball. The action and attitude of the grouse were comically suggestive of that very thing. The hawk appeared to be only fooling, for certainly it made no determined strike, but presently rose and curved away. An instant later the grouse took wing.

Game: Sandys says of the game qualities of this grouse:

As an object of the sportsman’s pursuit, the sage-grouse is greatly inferior to most of its relatives. The young, the only ones worth shooting, are great runners, and only take wing when compelled to, and once in the air their size is against them, although they fly fairly fast. Another objectionable feature is their ability to carry off shot, which sometimes borders on the marvelous. A light gun, deadly on other grouse, will hardly serve for these big fellows, the use of it surely meaning a lot of wounded birds. The coveys usually are small, as the young have many enemies, among which the chief are fierce storms, wet, wolves, foxes, and rapacious birds, while man plays no unimportant part in tne work of destruction.

Dwight W. Huntington (1903), however, speaks very highly of it as a game bird, and says of its value as a table bird “that these birds, like others, often receive a flavor froni their food, and when the wild sage is their exclusive diet they have a more or less bitter taste. When, however, the birds are young and have been feeding on grasshoppers, their flesh is as good as that of the sharp-tails or prairie-grouse.” As to his method of hunting sage grouse, Huntington writes: My shooting of these birds was mostly done from the saddle while on the march. When we flushed a covey of birds I took a shot at them, and marking those that flew away to the particular bush where they settled, rode at once to the spot and sometimes dismounted to shoot at the scattered birds. Upon several occasions I went out with a friend especially to shoot them, riding here and there (we had no dog) until the horse flushed a covey, and following them so long as we could make them take wing. Birds often escaped by biding In the sage and refusing to fly. The most likely places seemed to he depressions where the water evidently flowed in wet seasons and little knolls adjacent, but we stumbled upon the birds almost anywhere in the sage, and often made very good bags. It was next to Impossible to miss one, since the shots were always in the open and the marks large. The birds required hard hitting, however, to bring them down, and I would not advise the use of shot smaller than number 5 or 6. A wounded bird Is difficult to recover without a dog where the sage grows thickly, and I always tried to kill the birds outright. The side shots, or those at quartering birds, are more likely to he fatal than those at birds going straight away, since the shot then penetrates the lighter feathers beneath the wings.

Burnett (1905) says:

The counties of Albany, Converse, Natrona, and Carbon are the places where rouse are most abundant in Wyoming. A single hunter has been known to kill a hundred birds in a day without a dog. The best hunting is found over lands adjacent to springs, down green draws and the bottoms along streams, and the best time to find coveys is in the morning or evening when the birds are feeding. After feeding they hide either on the feeding ground or at some distance from it where the sage is large enough to screen them from enemies and the rays of the sun.

Its large size, the ease with which it can be killed, and the accessibility of its haunts combine to make this grouse a popular game bird during summer and fall when its flesh is most palatable. Consequently it is disappearing very fast, notably in California, Oregon, and Washington, where the extension of good roads and the increase in automobiles have made the sagebrush plains more accessible. To save this fine bird from extinction, as civilization spreads, the open season for shooting it must be shortened and the bag limits reduced. Even then, it probably can not be saved except on prot&ted reservations.

Fall: These grouse are usually resident throughout the year wherever they are found; but on some of the elevated plateaus, in the more northern portions of their range, the sagebrush, on which they feed in winter, becomes buried under the snow; they are therefore obliged to migrate in search of a food supply.

In the days of their abundance they used to gather in immense packs in fall. Bendire (1892) quotes the following from notes sent to him by Dr. George Bird Grinnell:

In wcstern Wyoming the Sage Grouse packs in September and October. In October, 1886, when camped just below a high bluff on the border of Bates Hole, in Wyoming, I saw great numbers of these birds, just after sunrise, flying over my camp to the little spring which oozed out of the bluff 200 yards away. Looking up from the tent at the edge of the bluff above us, we could see projecting over it the heads of hundreds of the birds, and, as those standing there took flight, others stepped forward to occupy their places. The number of Grouse which flew over the camp reminded me of the oldtlme flights of Passenger Pigeons that I used to see when I was a boy. Before long the narrow valley where the water was, was a moving mass of gray. I have no means whatever of estimating the number of birds ~~’hich I saw, but there must have been thousands of them.

Winter: Unless the snow is too deep the sage grouse seek shelter from the winter storms and blizzards in the denser clumps of sagebrush on their favorjte plains or find protection in the brushy valleys of the streams, in coulees, or in sheltered hollows. Sandys (1904) writes:

As winter tightens its grip upon the sage lands, the birds of many broods unite into packs of from fifty to one hundred and odd. The flush of one of these large packs Is something to be remembered, for great is the tumult of wings, and piercing the cackling, as the heavy fowl beat the air In frantic efforts to get squared away upon their chosen course. At this season the only way to get any sport out of them is by using the rifle.

Range: Western United States and casually in the interior of southwestern Canada.

The range of the sage grouse has been greatly restricted through the development of the West and through grazing activities, particularly of sheep, which do much to extirpate the birds over wide areas. The full range apparently extended north to (casually) the interior of southern British Columbia (Osoyoos Lake); southern Saskatchewan (casually Skull Creek, Val Marie, and casually Pinto Creek); North Dakota (Marmarth, Deep Creek, and formerly Fort Berthold); and formerly northeastern South Dakota (Grand River Agency and Fort Sisseton). East to South Dakota (formerly Fort Sisseton, Indian Creek, formerly Rapid City, and formerly Sage Creek) ; northwestern Nebraska (Antelope Creek) ; southeastern Wyoming (Marshall, Arlington, and Cheyenne); Colorado (Walden, Kremmling, Dillon, Lone Cone, and Dolores); and formerly northern New Mexico (Tres Piedras). South to formerly New Mexico (Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla); southern Utah (Grass Valley and Ilamblin) ; Nevada (Belmont and Queen); and eastern California (Big Pine and the headwaters of the Owens River). West to eastern California (the headwaters of the Owens River, Long Valley, Ravendale, Madeline Plains, Eagleville, and Tule Lake); Oregon (Klamath Falls, Silver Lake, Fort Rock, Silvies River, Turtle Cove, and IHaines); Washington (Rattlesnake Mountains, Yakima, and Ellensburg); and (casually) the interior of southern British Columbia (Osoyoos Lake).

Egg dates: Washington and Oregon: 16 records, March 11 to May 28; 8 records, April 11 to May 6. Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming: 25 records, April 25 to June 15; 13 records, May 16 to 29. Colorado and Utah: 11 records, May 10 to June 3; 6 records, May 19 to 28.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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