Centrocercus minimus J. R. Young, C. E. Braun, S. J. Oyler-McCance, J. R. Hupp & T. W. Quinn, 2000 — Details

Gunnison Sage-grouse learn more about names for this taxon

Overview

Distribution

Range Description

Centrocercus minimus is confined to the Gunnison basin in Gunnison and Saguache counties, south-west Colorado, with small, fragmented populations in Colorado and one in south-east Utah, USA (Storch 2000, Young et al. 2000, K. Strom 2004). Historically, it presumably occurred in Arizona, Oklahoma and New Mexico (BLM 1999), but the occupied range is now less than 500 km2. The breeding population is less than 3,000 individuals (BLM 1999, Storch 2000, Rich et al. 2003, C. Braun in litt. 2005, J. R. Young in litt. 2005). There have been long-term declines in lek sites, numbers of males at leks and offspring (BLM 1999, J. R. Young in litt. 1999, Storch 2000, Young et al. 2000).

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Gunnison sage grouse are native to North America, and are found in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. However, population distributions have been declining rapidly due to habitat destruction. Only five distinct populations remain, and the Gunnison Basin has the highest population diversity. Efforts to introduce sage grouse to New Mexico, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho have been unsuccessful.

Gunnison sage grouse have a potential distribution of 46,521 sq km, but a current range of 4,787 sq km. There is a large difference between the potential and actual distribution of populations, which may be due to habitat alteration and degradation.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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endemic to a single nation

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (1000-5000 square km (about 400-2000 square miles)) This species occurs locally in the Gunnison Basin and southwestern Colorado, and in adjacent southeastern (San Juan County) Utah south and east of the Colorado River (AOU 2000, Beck et al. 2003, Schroeder et al. 2004, Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Steering Committee 2005). The historical range is thought to have included southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, and southeastern Utah (Schroeder et al. 2004). Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Steering Committee (2005) includes a fairly detailed range map.

Schroeder et al. (2004) estimated that the current range is 4,787 square kilometers.

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Range

Gunnison Basin and sw Colorado adj. se Utah.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Historically, sage-grouse occurred in at least 15 states and 3 provinces from British Columbia east to Saskatchewan and south to New Mexico and California. Presently they are found in 11 states and 2 provinces [27,99]. Sage-grouse have been translocated in New Mexico, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Idaho and British Columbia. New Mexico initiated the earliest attempts at translocations in 1933 after the species was extirpated from the state in 1912. Efforts were unsuccessful. British Columbia attempted to reintroduce sage-grouse in 1958. No sage-grouse have been reported since 1966 and are considered to have been extirpated within the province [68,99]. In addition, sage-grouse have been extirpated in most of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, central California [60,64,68,87], and Arizona [68].

Greater sage-grouse are distributed from north-central Oregon, southern Idaho, and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan south to eastern California and extreme western North and South Dakota. Isolated populations also occur in eastern Washington [66,87,124]. Western sage-grouse occur only in eastern Washington and Oregon. The ranges of western and eastern sage-grouse overlap in Oregon. Eastern sage-grouse occur in all states and provinces within the range of sage-grouse except Washington [1,24].

Gunnison sage-grouse occur in 7 counties in southwestern Colorado and 1 county in southeastern Utah [26].

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Regional Distribution in the Western United States

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This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS [12]:

4 Sierra Mountains

5 Columbia Plateau

6 Upper Basin and Range

7 Lower Basin and Range

10 Wyoming Basin

11 Southern Rocky Mountains

12 Colorado Plateau

13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont

16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

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Occurrence in North America

CACOIDMT
NVNDORSD
UTWAWY
ABSK

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Physical Description

Morphology

Gunnison sage grouse display sexual dimorphism. Males have white breasts with two round yellow air sacs (cervical apteria) on their chest. These air sacs have scale-like feathers that males inflate (making a popping noise) during the spring to attract mates. Males have a black belly with a white V-shaped area separating their throat from their chest. They also have spiky brown and white tail feathers that can be fanned out for sexual signaling. Females are smaller and lighter than males and have a gray-brown coloration. Female have shorter tail feathers with less plumage and also lack the prominent air sacs present on males. Chicks resemble females and have a brown and white speckled appearance for camouflage. Adult sage grouse from southwestern Colorado have shorter and narrower beaks than adult sage grouse from northern Colorado. There are also morphological variations between Gunnison sage grouse and their close relative, greater sage grouse Centrocercus urophasianus. Gunnison sage grouse are smaller with longer black filoplumes on their heads. They are typically 32 to 51 cm long with a wingspan of 6 to 76 cm and a mass of 990 to 2435 g.

Range mass: 990 to 2435 g.

Range length: 32 to 51 cm.

Range wingspan: 66 to 76 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; male more colorful; sexes shaped differently; ornamentation

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Diagnostic Description

Gunnison sage-grouse are significantly smaller than greater sage-grouse in size of culmen, carpel, and tarsus, and they weigh approximately 1/3 less (Hupp and Braun 1991, Young et al. 2000). The two species also exhibit genetic differences (Kahn et al. 1999, Oyler-McCance et al. 1999). Additionally, Gunnison sage-grouse males have more elaborate head plumes than do greater sage-grouse males, and they have broader white barring on the tail feathers (Young et al. 2000). The two species also differ in male display behavior; for example, the Gunnison sage-grouse display ends with a tail-shaking motion of the raised tail (absent in greater sage-grouse) (Barber 1991;Young et al. 1994, 2000).

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Various adjacent habitats are required in the 2,300 m intermontane basin (J. R. Young in litt. 1999, Storch 2000). These differ seasonally and for age and sex classes (J. R. Young in litt. 1999). The species is totally reliant on sagebrush Artemisia spp. for seasonal cover and winter forage (Young et al. 2000). Lek sites have low vegetation with sparse shrubs, and are often surrounded by the big sagebrush-dominated plant communities required for nesting (BLM 1999). Broods are reared (May to autumn) in adjacent riparian plant communities and in mesic upland sites (BLM 1999, J. R. Young in litt. 2005). In winter, it associates with watercourses on southerly or westerly slopes and ridge tops where deep snow is less likely (BLM 1999).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Gunnison sage grouse are a sagebrush (Artemisia) obligate species and also depend on a variety of other grasses and habitats for mating, nesting, and brood-rearing. There are three categories of sage grouse populations: non-migratory, one stage migratory, and two stage migratory. Populations that are non-migratory display limited movement regardless of season. One stage migratory populations prefer different habitat conditions in summer and winter. Three stage migratory populations prefer different habitats for winter, summer, and mating seasons. Mating habitats are often low vegetative density areas with high visibility called leks. Regardless of migratory preferences, all sage grouse populations rely on sagebrush and riparian habitats for feeding and cover. They are found at elevations of 2,200 to 4,300 m.

Range elevation: 2200 to 4300 m.

Range depth: 8.5 (high) m.

Average depth: 4.8 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Other Habitat Features: agricultural ; riparian

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Comments: Most information is based on studies of the greater sage-grouse but likely applies to a large degree to Gunnison sage-grouse as well.

Sage-grouse use a variety of habitats throughout the year, but the primary component necessary is sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), especially big sagebrush (A. tridentata) (Braun 1995). Sagebrush is used for hiding and thermal cover as well as for food in the winter (Hupp and Braun 1989).

Leks, used for male displays from mid-March to early June, consist of open areas with good visibility (for predator detection) and acoustics (for transmission of male display sounds).

Female nesting sites typically are in relatively tall and dense stands of sagebrush, about 0.2-8.0 kilometers from the leks. Nest sites also have grass and forbs that provide additional hiding cover. Females with young remain in sagebrush uplands if hiding cover is adequate and if food (succulent forbs and insects) is available. As chicks mature and vegetation in the uplands desiccates, females move their broods to wet meadow areas that retain succulent forbs and insects through the summer (Klebenow 1969, Wallestad 1971). Preferred wet meadow areas also contain tall grasses for hiding and sagebrush stands at least 150 meters wide (Dunn and Braun 1986) along the periphery for hiding and foraging.

From mid-September into November all individuals use upland areas with 20 percent or greater sagebrush cover and some green forbs. As winter progresses and snow cover is extensive (> 80 percent) and deep (> than 30 centimeters), individuals forage in tall sagebrush (> 41 centimeters) in valleys and lower flat areas (Hupp and Braun 1989) and roost in shorter sagebrush along ridge tops. Roosting and foraging is typically restricted to south- or west- facing slopes where snow is typically shallower and less extensive (Hupp and Braun 1989). Small foraging areas that have 30-40 percent big sagebrush canopy cover also are important.

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Preferred Habitat

More info for the terms: cover, density, forb, forbs, litter, selection, shrub

Sage-grouse are totally dependent on sagebrush-dominated habitats [11]. Sagebrush is a crucial component of their diet year-round, and sage-grouse select sagebrush almost exclusively for cover [92]. Because sage-grouse habitat and cover requirements are inseparably tied to sagebrush, they will be discussed together.

Breeding: Open areas such as swales, irrigated fields, meadows, burns, roadsides, and areas with low, sparse sagebrush cover are used as leks [72]. Of 45 leks, Patterson [92] reported that 11 were on windswept ridges or exposed knolls, 10 were in flat sagebrush, 7 were in bare openings, and the remaining 17 were on various other site types. Leks are usually surrounded by areas with 20 to 50% sagebrush cover, with sagebrush no more than 1 foot (30.5 cm) tall.

When not on the lek, sage-grouse disperse to the surrounding areas [124]. Wallestad and Schladweiler [127] studied habitat selection of male greater sage-grouse in central Montana during breeding season and recorded sagebrush height and canopy cover at 110 daytime feeding and loafing sites of cocks. Eighty percent of the locations occurred in sagebrush with a canopy cover of 20-50%. In another Montana study [45], sagebrush cover averaged 30% on a cock-use area, and no cocks were observed in areas of less than 10% canopy cover.

Some females probably travel between leks. In Mono County, California, the home range of marked female greater sage-grouse during 1 month of the breeding season was 750 to 875 acres (300-350 ha), enough area to include several active leks [17].

Nesting: Within a week to 10 days following breeding, the hen builds a nest in the vicinity of the lek [4]. Hens usually nest near the lekking grounds [107], but some hens have been noted to fly as far as 12 to 20 miles (19-32 km) to favorable nesting sites [56,105]. Distances greater sage-grouse hens traveled from the lek to nest in central Montana in a study by Wallestad and Pyrah [126] were:

distance (miles) 0.00-0.50 0.51-1.00 1.01-1.50 1.51-2.00 2.01-3.00 3.01 plus
number of nests 1 8 6 1 4 2

In Idaho, Autenrieth [4] found the proximity of nests to leks to be:

distance to lek (miles) 0-0.96  0.96-1.92 1.92-2.88 2.88-3.84 3.84-4.80 4.80-5.76 5.76-6.72
cumulative percentages 28.4 59.0 73.4 85.0 96.2 97.2 100

Quality of nesting habitat surrounding the lek is the single most important factor in population success [5]. Adequacy of cover is critical for nesting. There can be too little: where 13% was the average percent total crown cover on Idaho range, nests were located where average cover was 17%. No greater sage-grouse hens nested in the most arid, open areas with less than 10% total shrub cover. There can be too much: average shrub cover at 87 nest sites was 18.4%, and in more dense cover, sage-grouse did not nest where total shrub cover was greater than 25% [71]. In Utah no nests occurred where threetip sagebrush cover exceeded 35% [98].

Sagebrush forms the nesting cover for most sage-grouse nests throughout the West with concealment being the basic requirement [23]. Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.) is occasionally used for nesting cover with greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus) and shadscale (Atriplex canescens) being rarely used [92].

Sage-grouse prefer relatively tall sagebrush with an open canopy for nesting. In Utah, 33% of 161 nests were under silver sagebrush that was 14 to 25 inches (36-63.5 cm) tall, while big sagebrush of the same height accounted for 24% of nests [98]. In a threetip sagebrush (A. tripartata) habitat averaging 8 inches (20 cm) in height, hens selected the tallest plants for nesting cover. Similarly, Patterson [92] reported that in Wyoming, 92% of greater sage-grouse nests in Wyoming big sagebrush were in areas where vegetation was 10 to 20 inches (25-51 cm) tall and cover did not exceed 50%.

Klott and others [77] measured variables at greater sage-grouse nests by habitat type in Idaho. Shrub cover and height were greater at nest sites than random sites in Wyoming big sagebrush and low sagebrush:

variable Wyoming big sagebrush low sagebrush crested wheatgrass seeding
Random Nest Random Nest Random Nest
grass cover (class)* 3 1    2 1 3 4
grass height (cm) 9.1 14.5 12.9 15.2 33.4 33.4
forb cover (class)* 2 2 1 1 1 3
number plant species 11.8 10.0 10.0 10.0 5.5 23.0
litter (class)* 4 4 3 3 4 3
bare ground (class)* 4 3 5 5 5 4
shrub cover (%) 23 31.5 15.1 15.1 3.9 0.0
shrub height (cm) 43.2 53.8 16.6 23.7 23.0 0.0
Robel pole (cm)** 23 46 7 13 10 19
*Cover class values: 1 = trace-1%, 2 = 1.01-5, 3 = 5.01-25%, 4 = 25.01-50%, 5 = 50.01-75%

** A measure of density [102]

In Montana, Wallestad and Pyrah [126] compared sagebrush characteristics around 31 successful and 10 unsuccessful nests. Successful nests had greater than average sagebrush cover surrounding the nest and were located in stands with a higher average canopy cover (27%) than unsuccessful nests (20%). Difference was significant at the 0.005 level. They also found the average height of sagebrush cover over all nests was 15.9 inches (40.4 cm) as compared to an average height of 9.2 inches (23.4) cm in adjacent areas (significant at 0.005 level).

During the nesting season, cocks and hens without nests use "relatively open" areas for feeding, and roost in "dense" patches of sagebrush [71,72].

Brood rearing: Sagebrush is an essential part of sage-grouse brood habitat. An interspersion of sagebrush densities, from scattered to dense, are utilized by broods throughout the summer. Broods can be grouped into 2 categories: those that remain in sagebrush types through the summer and those that shift from sagebrush types in mid-summer and later return to sagebrush.

Throughout the summers of 1968-1969 in a study in Montana, areas that received the greatest amount of utilization by greater sage-grouse broods were areas of sagebrush density characterized as scattered (1-10%) and common (10-25%). Scattered sagebrush received heaviest utilization in June. "Common" sagebrush was utilized heavily throughout the summer. "Dense" sagebrush had greatest use during late August and early September; "rare" sagebrush cover received greatest use in July and August.

Combined data for both years of the study at brood sites showed an average sagebrush cover of 14% during June, 12% during July, 10% during August and 21% during September, which reflects the vegetational types utilized by broods during the summer. Height of sagebrush at brood sites ranged mainly between 6 to 18 inches (15.2-45.7 cm) [123]. In 158 Montana locations, young greater sage-grouse broods used areas of low plant height 9 to 15 inches (23-38 cm)) and density, while older broods and adults used areas where plants were taller (7 to 25 inches (18-63.5 cm) [82].

Early in summer the size of the area used by greater sage-grouse hens with broods in Idaho seemed to depend upon the interspersion of sagebrush types that provided an adequate amount of food and cover. Areas with sagebrush in scattered densities, with occasional clumps in the common to dense categories, appeared to be preferred. In their daily activity, broods tended to use more open sites for feeding and to seek more dense clumps of sagebrush for roosting.

Throughout early summer, daily movements of broods were relatively long, reflecting the great daily activity required of broods to meet their nutritional needs. Klott and others [77] found that greater sage-grouse hens with broods had the following home ranges in Idaho:

home range sizes for 4 female greater sage-grouse with broods
home range (acres) habitat type
50.8 Wyoming big sagebrush
47.4 Wyoming big sagebrush
159.9 Wyoming big sagebrush/low sagebrush
66.1 Wyoming big sagebrush/low sagebrush

Cover types used by hens with broods typically had greater availability of forbs during periods of high use, but differences in availability between areas influenced use of cover types, movements, and diets.

In Oregon, the greater sage-grouse hens at Jackass Creek selectively used sites with forb cover greater than typically found there and similar to that generally available to broods at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. This amount of forb cover (12-14%) may represent the minimum needed for greater sage-grouse brood habitat in Oregon [39].

Succulence of their favored foods appears to be a key to sage-grouse movements [71]. As plants mature and dry, the grouse move to areas still supporting succulent vegetation. A delay in maturing of forbs has a noticeable effect on bird movements [72].

Broodless: A study by Gregg and others [57] in Oregon revealed differences in chronology of summer movements and cover types used between broodless greater sage-grouse hens and greater sage-grouse hens with broods. Broodless hens gathered in flocks and remained separate from but in the vicinity of hens with broods during early summer. However, broodless hens moved to meadows earlier in summer and used a greater diversity of cover types than hens with broods perhaps because dietary needs of broodless hens might be less specific than those of hens with broods.

Winter: A winter-use area appears to be both a key habitat segment and a major factor in sage-grouse distribution over a large area [45]. The best winter habitat is below snowline, where sagebrush is available all winter [105]. Dalke and others [34] reported wintering grounds of greater sage-grouse in Idaho were usually where snow accumulation was less than 6 inches (15 cm). In areas of deep snow, greater sage-grouse winter where sagebrush has grown above the snow level [6].

Sage-grouse appear to select areas of little or no slope. In a Colorado study, nearly 80% of Gunnison sage-grouse winter use of 500 square miles (1,252 km2) of sagebrush was on less than 35 square miles (87 km2): on flat areas where sagebrush projected above the snow, or on south- or west-facing sites of less than 5% slope, where sagebrush was sometimes quite short but still accessible [66]. In Montana, prime wintering areas were flat, large expanses of dense sagebrush; winter home ranges of 5 greater sage-grouse females in Montana varied from 2,615 to 7,760 acres (1,050-3,100 ha) during 2 different years [45].

Winter-use areas are determined by amount of snow rather than affinity to a particular site [103]. Majority of winter observations are in sagebrush with more than 20% canopy coverage. Species and subspecies of sagebrush that seem to be preferred by grouse in the winter are black sagebrush, low sagebrush, and some subspecies of big sagebrush [4,33].

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Associated Plant Communities

More info for the terms: cover, shrub

Sage-grouse are obligate residents of the sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystem, usually inhabiting sagebrush-grassland or juniper (Juniperus spp.) sagebrush-grassland communities. Meadows surrounded by sagebrush may be used as feeding grounds [65]. Use of meadows with a crown cover of silver sagebrush (A. cana) is especially important in Nevada during the summer [106].

Sage-grouse occur throughout the range of big sagebrush (A. tridentata), except on the periphery of big sagebrush distribution or in areas where it has been eliminated [24]. Sage-grouse prefer mountain big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. vaseyana) and Wyoming big sagebrush (A. t. spp. wyomingensis) communities to basin big sagebrush (A. t. spp. tridentata) communities.

Sagebrush cover types other than big sagebrush can fulfill sage-grouse habitat requirements; in fact, sage-grouse may prefer other sagebrush cover types to big sagebrush. Sage-grouse in Antelope Valley, California, for example, use black sagebrush (A. nova) cover types more often than the more common big sagebrush cover types [108]. Drut and others [39] found hens with broods on the National Antelope Refuge in Oregon were most frequently found (54-67% of observations) in low sagebrush (A. arbuscular) cover. Desert shrub habitat may also be utilized by sage-grouse [123].

Sagebrush communities not included in SRM Cover Types but supporting sage-grouse include silver sagebrush and fringed sagebrush (A. frigida) [98], [125]. Sage-grouse use of less common sagebrush communities (e.g. Bigelow sagebrush (A. bigelovii)) may occur but is not documented in the current literature.

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Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types

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This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):

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SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES  [109]:

107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass

314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass

315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue

316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue

320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass

321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue

324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue

401 Basin big sagebrush

402 Mountain big sagebrush

403 Wyoming big sagebrush

404 Threetip sagebrush

405 Black sagebrush

406 Low sagebrush

407 Stiff sagebrush

408 Other sagebrush types

414 Salt desert shrub

501 Saltbush-greasewood

612 Sagebrush-grass

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Habitat: Cover Types

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This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

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SAF COVER TYPES [46]:

No Entry

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Habitat: Plant Associations

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This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

KUCHLER [79] PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:

K024 Juniper steppe woodland

K038 Great Basin sagebrush

K040 Saltbush-greasewood

K055 Sagebrush steppe

K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe

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Habitat: Ecosystem

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This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):

ECOSYSTEMS [52]:

FRES29 Sagebrush

FRES30 Desert shrub

FRES35 Pinyon-juniper

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Cover Requirements

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

This species is basically nonmigratory in some areas, but in other areas it makes limited seasonal movements among different habitats. For example, in San Juan County, Utah, females nested within 3.3 km of lek sites, broods remained within 3.0 km of nest sites, and males stayed within 4.0 km of the nearest lek site (Lupis 2005). Females without broods traveled the farthest, moving up to 7.4 km from the lek on which they were captured (Lupis 2005). In the Gunnison basin, 20 of 25 nests were within 6.4 km of the lek on which the female was captured (Young 1994, Apa 2004, Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Steering Committe 2005). Overall, the vast majority of nests are within 6.4 km of the lek of capture (Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Steering Committee 2005). Longer movements sometimes occur. Movements of up to 24 km have been observed in individual Gunnison sage-grouse in the Gunnison Basin population (Phillips 2010, pers. comm., cited by USFWS 2010).Sage-grouse sometimes move 30 km or more between winter range and nesting areas (see Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Steering Committee 2005).

In greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in northwestern Colorado, median dispersal distance from place of hatching to place of breeding or attempted breeding was 8.8 km for 12 females and 7.4 km for 12 males (Dunn and Braun 1985).

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Trophic Strategy

Gunnison sage grouse have varying food preferences, depending on the life stage and season. In the early summer, insects and forbs are an essential component of the chicks' diet. Insects provide a source of protein for growth and development. In late summer, chicks begin to forage on forbs, and sagebrush is later added to the diet. As sagebrush habitats dry out in colder months, adults and chicks forage on forbs and sagebrush in riparian habitats. In the fall and winter, most sage grouse consume mainly sagebrush leaves. Certain types of sagebrush can be preferred based on protein levels and leaf textures. Gunnison sage grouse do not have muscular gizzards, so it is difficult for them to grind and digest seeds.

Animal Foods: insects

Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Comments: Sage-grouse diet consists of almost exclusively sagebrush in winter; during the remainder of the years Gunnison sage-grouse eat sagebrush, forbs, and insects (Wallestad et al. 1975, Schroeder et al. 1999, Young et al. 2000). Insects are important in the diet of chicks during their first three weeks of life; subsequently, forbs and sagebrush increase in importance (see Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Steering Committee 2005).

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Food Habits

More info for the terms: forb, forbs, frequency, shrub, shrubs

Adults: The importance of sagebrush in the diet of adult sage-grouse is impossible to overestimate. Numerous studies have documented its year-round use by sage-grouse [9,23,24,72,92,108,110,124,125]. A Montana study, based on 299 crop samples, showed that 62% of total food volume of the year was sagebrush. Between December and February it was the only food item found in all crops. Only between June and September did sagebrush constitute less than 60% of the greater sage-grouse diet [124]. Sage-grouse select sagebrush species differentially. Greater sage-grouse in Antelope Valley, California, browsed black sagebrush more frequently than the more common big sagebrush [108]. Young and Palmquist [134] state the browse of black sagebrush is highly preferred by greater sage-grouse in Nevada. In southeastern Idaho, black sagebrush was preferred as forage [33].

Among the big sagebrush subspecies, basin big sagebrush is less nutritious and higher in terpenes than either mountain or Wyoming big sagebrush. Sage-grouse prefer the other two subspecies to basin big sagebrush [6]. In a common garden study done in Utah, Welch, Wagstaff and Robertson [129] found sage-grouse preferred mountain big sagebrush over Wyoming and basin big sagebrush. However, when leaves and buds of the preferred species became limited, the birds shifted to the lesser-liked plants. The authors concluded the birds, while expressing preference, are capable of shifting their eating habits.

Sage-grouse lack a muscular gizzard and cannot grind and digest seeds; they must consume soft-tissue foods [124]. Apart from sagebrush, the adult sage-grouse diet consists largely of herbaceous leaves, which are utilized primarily in late spring and summer [42]. Additionally, sage-grouse use perennial bunchgrasses for food [8].

Sage-grouse are highly selective grazers, choosing only a few plant genera. Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.), legumes (Fabaceae), yarrow (Achillea spp.) and wild lettuce (Lactuca spp.) account for most of their forb intake [6,110]. Martin [82] found that from July to September, dandelion comprised 45% of greater sage-grouse intake; sagebrush comprised 34%. Collectively, dandelion, sagebrush, and two legume genera (Trifolium and Astragalus) contributed more than 90% of the sage-grouse diet. Insects are a minor diet item for adult sage-grouse. Martin and others [81] reported insects comprised 2% of the adult greater sage-grouse diet in spring and fall and 9% in summer. Sagebrush made up 71% of the year-round diet.

Prelaying females: Herbaceous dicots are used heavily by females before egg laying and may be essential for sage-grouse nutrition because of their high protein and nutrient content [8].

Favored foods of prelaying and brood-rearing greater sage-grouse hens in Oregon are [133]:

common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
goatsbeard (Tragopogon dubuis)
western yarrow (Achillea millifolium)
prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola)
sego lily (Calcochortus macrocarpus)

In southeastern Oregon, Barnett and Crawford [8] studied prelaying nutrition of greater sage-grouse hens, March to April, 1990 and 1991.

frequency of occurrence among crops relative dry weight 
 

food

     

big sagebrush 1990
(N = 7) %
low sagebrush 1990
(N = 13) %
low sagebrush 1990
(N = 22) %
big sagebrush 1990
(N = 7) %
low sagebrush 1990
(N = 13) %
low sagebrush 1990
(N = 22) %
sagebrush 100 92 100 55 50 22
desert-parsley (Lomatium spp.) 86 92 68 7 16 8
hawksbeard (Crepis spp.) 57 62 37 11 14 3
long-leaf phlox     (Phlox longifolia) 86 92 55 12 4 2
mountain dandelion (Agoseris spp.) 28 69 11 2 4 1
clover (Trifolium spp.) 0 31 18 0 4 1
everlasting (Antennaria spp.) 43 69 41 8 3 2
woollypod milk-vetch (Astragalus purshii) 57 31 9 2 <1 <1
buckwheat (Eriogonum spp.) 14 8 0 2 <1 0
arcane milk-vetch   (A. obscurus) 0 31 5 0 2 <1
buttercup (Ranunuculus spp.) 0 8 0 0 <1 0
other phlox (Phlox spp.) 14 15 18 <1 <1 <1
blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia spp.) 0 38 9 0 <1 <1
bluebells (Mertensia spp.) 0 0 5 0 0 <1
larkspur (Delphinium spp.) 0 0 5 0 0 <1
rockcress (Arabis spp.) 14 0 0 <1 0 0
other forbs 57 54 0 <1 <1 0
grasses 57 69 5 <1 <1 <1
ants 0 15 0 0 <1 0
caterpillars 0 8 0 0 <1 0
beetles 1 0 0 <1 0 0

Juveniles: In their 1st week of life, sage-grouse chicks consume primarily insects, especially ants and beetles [92]. Their diet then switches to forbs, with sagebrush gradually assuming primary importance. In a Utah study, forbs composed 54 to 60% of the summer diet of juvenile sage-grouse, while the diet of adult birds was 39 to 47% forbs [117].

In a Wyoming study, Johnson and Boyce [67] evaluated effects of eliminating insects from the diet of newly-hatched greater sage-grouse chicks. All chicks hatched in captivity and not provided insects died between the ages of 4 and 10 days, whereas all chicks fed insects survived the 1st 10 days. Captive greater sage-grouse chicks required insects for survival until they were at least 3 weeks old. Greater sage-grouse chicks > 3 weeks old survived without insects, but their growth rates were lowered significantly, indicating insects were still required for normal growth after 3 weeks of age. As quantity of insects in the diet increased, survival and growth rates also increased up to 45 days, the length of the experiment.

In a study conducted in Idaho, Klebenow and Gray [75] measured food items for juvenile greater sage-grouse for each age class, classes being defined by weeks since birth. In the 1st week insects were very important - 52% of the total diet. Beetles, primarily family Scarabaeidae, were the main food item. Beetles were taken by all other age classes of chicks, but in smaller amounts. All ages fed upon ants and while the volume was generally low, ants were found in most of the crops. After week 3, insect volume dropped and stayed at a lower level throughout all the age classes, fluctuating but always under 25%.

Forbs were the major plant food of the chicks. Harkness gilia (Linanthus harknessii) was the main forb species in the 1st week and then steadily decreased. It was not found in the diet after 6 weeks. Loco (Arabis convallarius) and common dandelion were important food items for most of the collection period and occurred with generally high frequencies. Common dandelion was the most abundant food item and the mainstay of the sage-grouse chicks. At 6 weeks of age, goatsbeard reached its peak in the diet and sego lily was found in greatest volume a week later. These 5 species were the most important forbs.

The only shrub of importance was big sagebrush. It appeared in the diet at 4 weeks of age and as the ages progressed, the volume increased steadily. These 6 plants comprised 83% of the total sample and are listed in order of decreasing percent total volume [75]:

food item part % of total
common dandelion buds, seeds 80
leaves 20
stems trace
total 100
goatsbeard buds 86
leaves 5
stems 9
total 100
Sego lily buds, capsules 100
big sagebrush leaves 100
loco flowers, buds 100
Harkness gilia capsules 100

With plants like common dandelion and goatsbeard, all aboveground parts of the plant were sometimes eaten. The stems, however, were not of main importance. The reproductive parts, mainly buds, flowers, and capsules, were the only parts taken from some of the other species. Conversely, leaves were the only parts of sagebrush found in the crops. Leaves and flowers of the species listed above and other dicots contained higher amounts of crude protein, calcium, and phosphorus than sagebrush and may be important in greater sage-grouse diets for these reasons [8].

In a central Montana study, Peterson [95] analyzed crop contents of juvenile greater sage-grouse. Data indicate increasing use of sage species and decreasing use of insects. Percent frequency and percent volume of food items commonly utilized by 1- to 12-week-old greater sage-grouse collected during 1966 and 1968 were:

age (weeks)
1-4  n = 26 5-8  n = 47 9-12  n = 54
food item %Freq/(%Vol) %Freq /(%Vol) %Freq /(%Vol) Total1 % Freq/ (%Vol)
FORBS
common dandelion 63/33 59/23 43/19 55/25
goatsbeard 46/9 83/30 60/5 63/15
prickly lettuce -- 27/9 60/26 29/12
desert parsley 48/22 2/1 2/trace 17/8
fringed sagebrush 6/trace 35/3 50/19 30/7
curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa) 9/trace 28/3 39/4 25/2
alfalfa       (Medicago sativa) -- 21/2 22/2 14/1
unidentified forbs 37/3 28/1 30/trace 32/1
littlepod false flax  (Camelina microcarpa) 9/1 2/trace -- 4/trace
western yarrow -- 2/trace 8/1 3/trace
SHRUBS
big sagebrush 6/trace 2/trace 41/3 16/1
skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata) -- 3/3 -- 1/1
GRASSES
wheat  (Triticum aestivum) -- -- 9/3 3/1
Ttotal volumes of trace material 2 1 1 1
TOTAL PERCENT PLANT VOLUME 70 76 83 76
ANIMAL MATTER
Orthoptera 29/1 40/21 37/17 35/13
Coleoptera 78/8 44/1 18/trace 47/3
Hymenoptera 76/7 50/1 45/trace 53/3
immature insects 54/5 23/1 -- 26/2
unidentified insects 34/1 21/trace 9/trace 21/trace
TOTAL VOLUMES OF TRACE MATERIAL 8 -- -- 3
TOTAL PERCENT ANIMAL VOLUME 30 24 17 24
1 Totals are derived by aggregating the percentages from every week-class, thereby eliminating any bias introduced by the individual sample size and crop holding capacity of each age-class.

Five most preferred1 plant species in each 2-week age division of juvenile sage-grouse, 1966 and 1968 are listed below. Note only 1 sagebrush species is listed and that it is not preferred until weeks 7-8 [95]:

  age (weeks)
food item 1-2
n=8
3-4
n=8
5-6
n=17
7-8
n=16
9-10
n=11
11-12
n=9
13-14
n=6
goatsbeard 3 5 4 4 4 1 5
common dandelion 5 3 3 3 2 5 3
fringed sagebrush - - - 2 5 4 4
prickly lettuce - - 5 5 3 - -
alfalfa - - 2 - - 3 2
common pepperweed (Lepidium densiflorum) 4 2 - - - - -
curlycup gumweed 2 1 - 1 1 - -
littlepod false flax - 4 - - - - -
western yarrow - - - - - 2 -
American vetch   (Vicia americana) 1 - - - - - -
Breitung blue lettuce (Lactuca pulchella) - - 1 - - - -
sedges (Carex spp.) - - - - - - 1
1Number assigned to each species, in descending order of importance, indicates its status as a preferred plant food item.

Water: Sage-grouse apparently do not require open water for day-to-day survival if succulent vegetation is available. They utilize free water if it is available, however. Sage-grouse distribution is apparently seasonally limited by water in some areas. In summer, sage-grouse in desert regions occur only near streams, springs, and water holes. In winter in Eden Valley, Wyoming, sage-grouse have been observed regularly visiting partially frozen streams to drink from holes in the ice [23].

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Associations

Light to moderate grazing in the early season can promote forb and arthropod abundance in both upland and riparian habitats, whereas intense foraging can cause detrimental decreases in sagebrush distribution and promote introduction of invasive grasses. Gunnison sage grouse are infected with some kinds of blood parasites (Haemoproteus).

Ecosystem Impact: keystone species

Mutualist Species:

  • sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata )

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • blood parasites (Haemoproteus)

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Sage grouse are easy targets due to their large size and inability to run fast. Males are also ostentatious and can be spotted by predators relatively easily. Females and chicks have a lower mortality rate due to smaller mass and the ability to camouflage with their surroundings. There has been research showing that a decrease in black tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) populations has led to an increase in predation of sage grouse. In other regions, decreases in preferred prey populations have resulted in a shift of preferred prey to sage grouse. Dense, tall vegetation can help provide cover to protect nests from predators. Coyotes (Canis latrans), ground squirrels (Sciuridae), and American badgers (Taxidea taxus) are common nest predators. Sage grouse are also a popular game bird. Colorado and Utah have prohibited hunting for sage grouse in certain areas to protect dwindling population numbers.

Known Predators:

  • golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos)
  • coyotes (Canis latrans)
  • foxes (Vulpes)
  • American badgers (Taxidea taxus)
  • magpies (Pica hudsonia)
  • weasels (Mustela)
  • ravens (Corvus corax)
  • red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis)
  • ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis)

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Predators

More info for the terms: cover, density, series, shrub

Predators are commonly believed to negatively impact sage-grouse populations and of most importance is timing of death. Nest loss to predators is most important when potential production of young and recruitment are seriously impacted [19]. Lack of adequate nesting and brooding cover may account for high juvenile losses in many regions [69].

Studies by Gregg and others [58], Delong and others [37] in Oregon, and Sveum and others [113] in Washington suggest that nest success is related to herbaceous cover near the nest site. Taller, more dense herbaceous cover apparently reduces nest predation and likely increases early brood survival [19]. Although predators were the proximate factor influencing nest loss, the ultimate cause may relate to the vegetation available to nesting sage-grouse [58]. Tall dense vegetation may provide visual, scent, and physical barriers between predators and nests of ground-nesting birds. Greater amounts of both tall grass and medium-height shrub cover were associated collectively with a lower probability of nest predation [37]. In a series of Nevada studies, artificial nest predation experiments were conducted. Artificial nests experienced 100% mortality with the loss of 1,400 eggs in 200 simulated sage-grouse nests in 2 weeks in 1 study, 84% of the nests were destroyed in 3 days in another study, while just 3% of the nests were destroyed in 10 days in an area of significantly better cover (t test, P < 0.05) [70].

Generally, quantity and quality of habitats used by sage-grouse control the degree of predation. Thus, predation would be expected to be most important as habitat size and herbaceous cover within sagebrush decreases [19].

A decline in preferred prey may also result in increased predation on sage-grouse. Kindschy [69] suggested that in southeastern Oregon, a decline in black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) numbers may have caused predators to switch to sage-grouse as their primary prey.

Predator species: Coyote (Canis latrans) [69,116], bobcat (Lynx rufus) [7], badger (Taxidea taxus) [77], falcons (Falconidae) [94], and hawks, kites, and eagles (Accipitridae) [9,40,96] prey on adult and juvenile sage-grouse. Crows and ravens (Corvus spp.) and magpies (Pica spp.) consume juvenile birds [69,116]. Coyote, ground squirrels (Spermophilus spp.), and badger are the most important mammalian nest predators. Among bird species, magpies and ravens commonly prey on sage-grouse nests [63,66,124].

Sage-grouse are a popular game bird. Mortality due to hunting is generally considered to be compensatory [19,34] and replacive [19], where until mortality reaches a "threshold value" it has no effect on population levels. Autenrieth and others [6] state data are not available to suggest that closed or restricted hunting seasons will materially affect overall sage-grouse population levels on their primary range.

In a study on hunting in a low density greater sage-grouse population in Nevada, Stigar [111] concluded low sage-grouse populations may be a result of factors other than hunting. Protecting 1 sage-grouse population from hunting while doubling the birds harvested in a 4-year period on another population showed that despite low recruitment, both populations increased to nearly the same density.

In an Oregon study, no relationship existed between the rate of summer recruitment (chicks/adult) and harvest by hunters. Nor was any significant relationship found between the size of the fall harvest and population trends during the subsequent spring. Decline in greater sage-grouse populations was apparently unrelated to harvest because no relationship was found between the magnitude of the harvest and the size of subsequent spring populations [31].

Braun and Beck [20] demonstrated no relationship between harvest rates and subsequent breeding population size in Colorado. Gill [55], also in a Colorado study, concluded that hunter harvest had little effect on spring populations of male Gunnison sage-grouse.

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 6 - 20

Comments: Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Steering Committee (2005) identified eight extant populations (these are metapopulations, each of which includes gaps in occupied habitat).

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Global Abundance

2500 - 10,000 individuals

Comments: As of 2009, the total population was estimated to be about 4,400 individuals, with about 3,800 of these in the Gunnison Basin, Colorado (all other populations had estimated population sizes of fewer than 200 individuals.(USFWS 2010).

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General Ecology

Sage-grouse are strong fliers but tend to travel slowly on foot unless threatened, in which case the grouse tend to hide or fly (less likely to run long distances) (Patterson 1952, Schroeder et al. 1999).

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Habitat-related Fire Effects

More info for the terms: controlled burn, cover, fire frequency, forb, forbs, frequency, prescribed burn, prescribed fire, short-term effects, shrub, shrubs, wildfire, xeric

Fire may be beneficial or detrimental to sage-grouse, depending on the particular setting and location relative to seasonal changes [24]. Sage-grouse use sagebrush of different age classes and stand structure for different life history events at different seasons. Fire effects on these different sagebrush habitats vary and are treated separately. Additionally, some sage-grouse populations are migratory and others sedentary. Whether a population is migratory or not is dependent on precipitation, vegetation, and elevation [28,29]. Where precipitation is less than 10.4 inches/year (260 mm/yr) [28] or where sage-grouse move more than 10 miles (16 km) [103] to a seasonal range, populations are considered migratory. Plant communities that support these populations reflect differences in precipitation and elevation and may exhibit different fire effects. Where there is sufficient literature, differences in migratory and sedentary populations relative to HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS are discussed.

Breeding: Leks, where breeding occurs, are usually small open areas from 0.1 to 10.0 acres (0.4-4.0 ha) in size, but may be as large as 100 acres (40.5 ha) [23]. Effects of fire on the lek itself are not as much a concern as they are on the area around the lek [5]. This area is used by sage-grouse for loafing, feeding, and escape cover [4,73]. A study by Wallestad and Schladweiler [127] in Montana recorded sagebrush cover and height at 110 daytime sites of cock greater sage-grouse and found 80% of the locations occurred in sagebrush with a canopy cover of 20-50%. Sagebrush canopy cover for the 110 sites averaged 36%. Also in Montana, Eng and Schladweiler [45] found that a cock-use area during the breeding season had canopy coverage of sagebrush averaging 30%. In Idaho, Autenrieth [4] found 80% of cock greater sage-grouse locations occurred in sagebrush stands of 20-50% canopy coverage.

An Idaho study by Martin [84], after wildfires in 1981, found greater sage-grouse continued to use leks located within extensive burns. Attendance of males at burned leks did not decrease (after adjusting for population declines) despite extensive reduction of surrounding shrub cover. During this study, males and females attended leks in spite of the loss of vegetative cover immediately surrounding leks. Greater sage-grouse seemed to adapt to loss of sagebrush in travel corridors and in principal breeding season habitat of cocks. Cocks and hens appeared to feed, loaf, and roost primarily in unburned habitat and fly into burned leks. Martin found greater sage-grouse attended burned and unburned leks within perimeters of large burns and suggested there are 2 factors that account for why greater sage-grouse attended burned leks in his study area: 1) The summer wildfire burn occurred in a mosaic pattern and left many unburned islands, so abundant nesting habitat was available near all leks within the burn. 2) The long-term population within the burn area was well below average population when the burn occurred, allowing the smaller unburned portions of the study area to supply necessary habitat requirements. Gates [53] observed greater sage-grouse displaying and mating on a burned area in Idaho during the 1st 2 breeding seasons following a burn. These observations also took place during a population decline.

Fischer [47] studied lek attendance patterns after a late-summer prescribed burn on the upper Snake River Plain of southwestern Idaho. He could detect no differences attributable to fire after 2 years. However, an additional year of data on lek attendance and further analysis of lek data from Fischer's study provide evidence that fire had a negative influence on the breeding population in the treatment area [28]. The notion that fire had negative effects on the greater sage-grouse breeding population in the treatment area is supported by 4 findings: 1) The treatment area had a higher loss of leks (-58%) than did the control area (-35%). 2) Changes in attendance in major leks by males were similar in treatment and control areas during the preburn period but the treatment area had a greater decline in attendance (-90%) than the control area (-63%) during the postburn period. 3) Average lek attendance at the 2 largest leks in both areas was greater in the treatment (67 males) than the control (59 males) area during the preburn period. However, the situation reversed during the postburn period, and average attendance at the 2 treatment leks (22 males) was less than the average attendance at the control leks (36 males). 4) The mean number of male greater sage-grouse per lek was similar in treatment and control areas during the preburn period but was much lower in the treatment area (6 males) than in the control area (17 males) during the postburn period.

In a study in Idaho, Connelly and others [30] found some greater sage-grouse leks persist even after sagebrush areas have been burned. Data from the study suggest that greater sage-grouse continue to use leks in altered areas because some hens nest successfully under nonsagebrush plants. The authors caution that persistence of leks in burned areas should not be interpreted as evidence that fire has little effect on greater sage-grouse populations. Greater sage-grouse use of nonsagebrush shrubs for nest sites may allow populations to persist at low levels in a burned area until the area recovers. However, this behavior may only slow, but not prevent, the birds' ultimate disappearance from the burned area.

Leks used by migratory populations of sage-grouse appear to be more susceptible to deleterious HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS because they are usually dominated by Wyoming big sagebrush [132] which re-establishes slowly following fire [86]. Degradation of breeding range because of fire, drought, grazing, or herbicides will likely reduce sage-grouse populations because of low nesting effort, low nest success, or poor chick survival. Regardless of the method used to eliminate or reduce sagebrush cover in xeric sage-grouse breeding habitat, these actions have the potential for reducing breeding populations of grouse. It is recommended that prescribed burning be avoided in relatively xeric habitats used by breeding migratory sage-grouse. If a Wyoming big sagebrush habitat type supports a breeding population of sage-grouse, it is recommended a high priority be given to suppressing wildfires in these habitats during drought [28].

Nesting: After mating, hens disperse to nest [73]. Most nest near leks, and areas within a 1.9 mile (3 km) radius of leks is considered the most important for nesting [21]. Some hens may fly as far as 32 to 48 miles (20-30 km) to nest [105]. Nesting habitat is often a belt between summer and winter range [71]. Often there is a complex of habitat types centered around a lek. In nonmigratory populations of sage-grouse, this complex may provide for year-round needs of the birds. In migratory populations, this suite of habitat types often includes breeding, nesting, early brood-rearing, and winter habitats, and sage-grouse migrate to fill their summer needs [50].

Gill [55] found that Gunnison sage-grouse nested under all types of shrub cover on his study area in Colorado, but preferred sagebrush, with 92.3% of 117 nests located under sagebrush. Shrub heights preferred for nesting varied from 11.8 to 23.6 inches (30-60 cm), with 7.9 to 31.5 inches (20-80 cm) adequate and shrub canopy coverage > 17% [24]. In Idaho, Klebenow [71] found no greater sage-grouse nested in the most arid, open areas (< 10% total shrub cover, mean shrub canopy coverage at 87 nest sites = 18.4%). In more dense cover, greater sage-grouse did not nest where total shrub cover was > 25% [72].

Complete removal of sagebrush in burned areas could reduce nesting, hiding, and wintering cover for sage-grouse [21]. Sage-grouse show fidelity to leks and/or nesting areas [13,48]. A study on the Big Desert, in Idaho, by Fischer and others [48], found that because greater sage-grouse hens appear to seek suitable habitat within a relatively small area, nest area fidelity may reduce nesting if large areas of nesting habitat are destroyed. Hens may nest in unsuitable areas and experience lower nest success [30].

Klebenow [71] states the cover shrubs provide is necessary for nesting greater sage-grouse, and complete removal of shrubs can only result in elimination of greater sage-grouse from the area. Fire eliminates potential winter and nesting habitat according to Robertson [104] and Fischer [47]. Connelly and Braun [27] feel fire may negatively impact sage-grouse populations by eliminating or fragmenting relatively large blocks of wintering or nesting habitat. During the 1st few years after burning, nesting habitat is essentially destroyed [88].

Fischer [47] studied the effects of fire on migratory greater sage-grouse breeding, nesting, and brood-rearing habitat in southeastern Idaho. Nests inside the burned area were only found in unburned patches, suggesting that removal of sagebrush by fire reduces nesting cover for grouse. Although no immediate differences in use of burned and unburned habitat were demonstrated in this study for 3 postfire years, long-term response of nesting greater sage-grouse to fire may be dependent on both the scale of sagebrush removal and intensity of fidelity to nesting areas. Greater sage-grouse that show nesting-area fidelity may subsequently return to the same area and attempt a nest even after the habitat has been manipulated. Attenuation of nest-area fidelity as site-tenacious individuals die may decrease production in the burned area. Fire may also reduce the number of suitable nesting sites by removing shrub cover for nests.

Brood rearing: The single unifying theme threatening sage-grouse across their geographical range is the universality of brood habitat loss [38]. Drought and increased fire frequency may be the primary agents causing a decline in brood-rearing habitat for sage-grouse. Moreover, an unfavorable situation due to drought and an increase in wildfire may have been made worse in many areas by vigorous prescribed burning [27]. Brood habitat typically has 15-25% shrub canopy closure but at least 10-20% cover of live forbs and grasses [38]. In southern Idaho, the percent canopy cover of big sagebrush at brood sites was 8.5%, significantly less than the average for the entire area, 14.3% [71].

Broods are tied to food in addition to cover [92]. After hatching, before chicks can fly and when mortality is highest [4,92], broods need food in close proximity to escape cover [112]. Diet of sage-grouse chicks is chiefly insects early in life, shifting to succulent forbs and shrub foliage as chicks grow older [75,92,95]. Abundant food forbs in close proximity to unburned sagebrush cover could benefit sage-grouse broods by providing additional food with adequate cover, and fire-enhanced flowering may improve forage availability for sage-grouse during the brood rearing period [133]. Sime [110] states openings in sagebrush canopy may increase forbs and improve brood habitat, and Klebenow [72] suggests reduced shrub cover on burned sites may increase accessibility of forbs and insects to chicks. In a 2-year study of greater sage-grouse responses to wildfire in Idaho, Martin [84] found that burning improved habitat for sage-grouse broods. During both postburn years, forb crown cover was significantly higher in burned habitats than in unburned habitats. However, Nelle and others [88] found that during the 1st few years after burning on a site in southeastern Idaho, greater sage-grouse brood-rearing habitat was not improved.

After a prescribed burn on the Snake River plain of southeastern Idaho, Connelly and others [28] found no difference in the use of burned and unburned areas by a migratory population of greater sage-grouse. These results suggest fire does not improve brood-rearing habitat in relatively low precipitation areas dominated by Wyoming big sagebrush. The authors were unable to show an increase in forbs following the fire, so fire may have caused an overall decline in brood-rearing habitat, perhaps contributing to the decline in greater sage-grouse population following the fire. Decreased food abundance following fire in the treatment area may have indirectly affected survival by increasing chick movement. Fire in Wyoming big sagebrush has not been reported to increase the length of the growing season for forbs important in the diet of sage-grouse [133].

Fischer's [47] research in southeastern Idaho provided evidence for excluding fires that eliminate large blocks of vegetation in brood habitat for migratory greater sage-grouse within xeric regions, because of its impact on insects. Fire appeared to negatively impact insect abundance in 1 of the 3 orders that are most important in sage-grouse diets. The fire created a mosaic of sagebrush areas interspersed with open areas having abundant grasses and forbs, but there was no positive response of greater sage-grouse to the burned area. Broods require food, mainly forbs, in addition to cover. Both may be present in a given acre of land, but the birds also use and appear to seek areas where there is an interspersion of habitat types. They only feed in areas where cover is nearby [72].

A study by Fischer and others [49] in southeastern Idaho indicated that short-term effects of a prescribed fire in a xeric environment did not enhance brood-rearing habitat and may have been detrimental to grasshoppers which are important in sage-grouse diets. Gates and Eng [54] examined use of burned areas by migratory greater sage-grouse after prescribed burns in 1981 and 1982 at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. They suggested the patchy burn which occurred could enhance early brood-rearing habitat. If availability of forbs and insects were enhanced on burned areas, then an abundant food supply would be available to broods in close proximity to escape cover.

Summer: Sage-grouse have been reported to be attracted to burn areas during summer [74,84]. Summer habitat is characterized by shrub canopy cover of at least 15% and at least 10% live forb cover [38]. Sagebrush and forbs are essential components of summer sage-grouse habitat [41]. If fire increases availability of photosynthesizing, succulent foods in uplands during the late summer, available sage-grouse habitat may be increased [133].

Connelly and others [28] studied migratory greater sage-grouse response to a controlled burn on the upper Snake River Plain of southeastern Idaho. They found fire apparently had no influence on the timing of migration of female greater sage-grouse. However, they found the summer population associated with the burn area declined 75% while that in the control area declined 52%. A similar but more pronounced decline occurred at the largest lek in the burned area. Estimated summer population associated with this lek declined 98% during the 9-year study while the population associated with a similar lek in the unburned area only declined 45%.

Migratory greater sage-grouse in a xeric habitat were studied by Fischer [47] in Idaho. He found that cover of forbs important in greater sage-grouse summer diets was similar in burned and unburned habitats. Although the fire created a mosaic of sagebrush areas interspersed with open areas having abundant grasses and forbs, there was no movement of greater sage-grouse to the burned area.

Winter: Many researchers [10,45,92] describe winter habitat as probably the most limiting seasonal habitat and thus perhaps the most critical [100]. The majority of winter observations are in sagebrush with more than 20% canopy coverage [103]. Connelly and others [28] describe sage-grouse wintering habitat as open to moderately dense sagebrush with 10-20% canopy cover. For sedentary populations of sage-grouse, the wintering area is often located within 2 miles (3.2 km) of the strutting ground and nesting area [103].

Fire may negatively impact sage-grouse populations by eliminating or fragmenting relatively large blocks of wintering habitat [27] and at times, severe fires destroy important wintering areas for sage-grouse [24]. Sage-grouse show affinity for particular winter ranges [13,45], and known sage-grouse wintering areas should receive priority attention in the control of wildfires [6]. Lack of protection of critical winter habitat has resulted in sage-grouse population declines [13], and Sime [110] states it is imperative that winter sage-grouse habitat be protected. Braun and others [21] caution that complete removal of sagebrush in burned areas could reduce nesting, hiding, and wintering cover for sage-grouse. Gates and Eng [54] suggest elimination of sagebrush by burning will destroy wintering habitat for grouse.

In areas where winter habitat is limiting, loss of contiguous sagebrush rangeland could negatively impact sage-grouse by removing food and cover. Robertson [104] conducted a study of a migratory greater sage-grouse population in a xeric habitat in Idaho. He found burning decreased the structural components of greater sage-grouse winter habitat, and use of these areas decreased dramatically. This does not imply that that burning is detrimental to greater sage-grouse with large expanses of winter habitat. If burning takes place on critical winter range, and heavy snow fall covers much of the remaining habitat during the following winter, food and cover may be severely limited. Klebenow [72] suggests there is little place for fire on wintering sites of migratory greater sage-grouse in xeric habitat since there is nearly a complete reliance on shrubs for food and cover.

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Timing of Major Life History Events

Courtship/nesting: Males gather on the lek or strutting grounds, which are small open areas where breeding occurs, in late February to April, as soon as the lek is relatively free of snow. Only a few dominant males, usually 2, breed. Sage-grouse mating behaviors, which are complex, are summarized by Johnsgard [65]. After mating, the hen leaves the lek for the nesting grounds. Clutch size ranges from 6 to 8 eggs; incubation time is 25 to 27 days. Sage-grouse apparently have high rates of nest desertion and nest predation [58,65]. Summarizing data from several sage grouse studies, Gill [56] found a range of nesting success from 23.7 to 60.3%, with predation accounting for 26 to 76% of lost nests.

Brooding: Chicks fly by 2 weeks of age, although their movements are limited until they are 2 to 3 weeks old [124]. They can sustain flight by 5 to 6 weeks of age. Juveniles are relatively independent by the time they have completed their first molt at 10 to 12 weeks of age [66].

Seasonal movements: Fall movements to wintering areas are driven by weather conditions and usually occur gradually. After late winter or spring lekking activity, sage-grouse may move to higher elevations or down to irrigated valleys for nesting and feeding. Brooding ranges may be a considerable distance from winter ranges or spring nesting grounds. Schlatterer [107] reported that in southern Idaho, brooding grounds were 13 to 27 miles (21-43 km) from the nesting grounds. Males may also move long distances over the seasons. During winter in Wyoming, Patterson [92] recovered a male greater sage-grouse 75 air miles (120 km) from where he had banded it the previous summer.

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Direct Effects of Fire

Fire-related mortality of sage-grouse has not been documented in the literature. Blackburn and others [14] state fire generally has no direct effect on wildlife. However, Call and Maser [24] caution that fires in late spring and early summer, before young are capable of escaping, could destroy many nesting birds, including sage-grouse.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Species can communicate with callings, courtship vocalizations, and feather signaling. Callings can be used to defend territory or to alert others about a threat. Courtship vocalizations help females distinguish the fitness between males during mating season. On the lek, older males will establish and defend their territory by sometimes chasing or fighting other males. Males will often position themselves laterally to females to project the loudest sound. Feather signals are made by the spreading of the tail feathers or the flapping of the wings.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Cyclicity

Comments: Activity occurs throughout the year, primarily during daylight hours.

Mating activity peaks shortly after sunrise but occasionally occurs near sunset or during nights with bright moonlight (Schroeder et al. 1999).

During the mating season, sage-grouse forage in morning after breeding activity and in afternoon before roosting or breeding activity (Schroeder et al. 1999). During nesting season, females remain on nests throughout most of the day and night, but they take brief foraging breaks during morning and late afternoon or evening (Girard 1937).

In summer, sage-grouse forage in early morning, loaf during midday, and forage again in the afternoon (Nelson 1955).

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Life Expectancy

In the wild, Gunnison sage grouse have an expected lifespan of 3 to 6 years but can live up to 9 years. Survival rates are low in captivity, and their expected lifespan in captivity is 1 years. This makes rescue efforts difficult for this endangered species. The Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) tried captive rearing and only 11 of 40 chick eggs survived their first year. Despite low survival rate in captivity, CDOW believe that better techniques for raising Gunnison sage grouse have been attained from the process. Sage grouse mortality is higher for males than for females in the wild due to their larger size and flashy appearance. Females and chicks have lower mortality rates because they have a speckled brown and white coloration that functions as camouflage.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
9 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
3 to 6 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
1 (high) years.

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Reproduction

Gunnison sage grouse display "clumped polygyny," where multiple males compete to mate with females on an arena called a lek. Beginning mid-March through late May, many males begin to migrate to lek sites and often return to the same one each season. Males are very territorial and may defend their lek from intruders. Only one or two males (10-15%) is rewarded with the chance to reproduce with the surveying females. Adult and yearling females often get the opportunity to breed, whereas only select adult males and rarely any yearling males are able to mate.

Leks are often in places with low vegetation and sagebrush cover to maximize visibility. Males compete for females by popping their air sacs and strutting back and forth around the lek for hours. A male can also fan out his tail to try and impress females. Male Gunnison sage grouse have slower courtship displays than their close relatives, greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). There are structural differences in mating calls between the two species as well. Females in the Gunnison Basin and northern Colorado can distinguish between male courtship vocalizations. Due to regional differences, females often prefer courtship vocalizations from regions nearby. This preferential breeding behavior creates a reproductive barrier between populations of Gunnison sage grouse that are geographically separated and may be an underlying factor causing species isolation and endangerment. Research has also shown that mating outside of the lek occurs occasionally.

Mating System: polygynous

Males do not participate in either nesting or brood rearing processes. The pre-laying period is from late March to April, when hens search for the ideal nesting sites. Better nesting sites have a greater diversity of forbs and sagebrush for both nutrition and cover. Forbs are a good source of calcium, phosphorous, and proteins that hens feed on during the gestation period to lay healthy eggs. Nesting occurs from mid-April to June and hens may then migrate to locations far from the lek to find optimal nesting conditions. Hens select nest sites that have adequate sagebrush and grass to provide cover from predators while the hen is incubating the eggs. Hens are loyal to successful nesting areas and will return season after season.

Hens have one brood per season and lay 6 to 8 eggs that hatch in 25 to 27 days. Small clutch sizes and annual mating opportunities have resulted in decreasing population numbers. Despite the small clutch size, most eggs hatch in June. Chicks are precocial and weigh 30 g at birth on average. Soon after hatching, they leave the nesting area for a riparian habitat to feed on insects. Chicks are able to make short flights and feed on their own by 2 to 3 weeks of age. They may follow their mothers until the fall. Chicks are able to sustain flight by 5 to 6 weeks of age and are considered independent at 10 to 12 weeks of age. In the winter, chicks and mothers separate into sexually segregated flocks and may be reunited in the spring when flocks migrate to lek sites to compete for mates.

Breeding interval: Gunnison sage grouse breed annually in the spring.

Breeding season: Gunnison sage grouse breed from April to June.

Range eggs per season: 6 to 9.

Average eggs per season: 7.

Range time to hatching: 25 to 27 days.

Range fledging age: 2 to 3 weeks.

Range time to independence: 10 to 12 weeks.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Besides reproduction, males take no part in nest building or brood rearing. Females look for nesting sites that have adequate coverage and resources to raise chicks. Herbaceous dicots are an important dietary requirement for egg laying and provide a rich source of protein and phosphorous. Females often return to the same nesting sites annually if nest success rates are high. Chicks follow the mothers shortly after hatching. Hens offer a limited amount of parental care and chicks are mostly on their own for food procurement.

Parental Investment: precocial ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female)

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The life cycle involves several significant stages, minimally including wintering, lek attendance, nesting, and brood rearing.

In Colorado and likely Utah, males display on leks from mid-March through late May, depending on elevation and conditions (Rogers 1964). Females visit leks, mate with one or more males, then depart to begin nesting. Clutch size averages around 6-7 (Young 1994, USFWS 2010). Incubation, by the female alone, lasts about 4 weeks. Hatching begins around mid-May and may extend into July; the peak usually is in mid-June (Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Steering Committee 2005). Chicks leave the nest with the female shortly after hatching. Females infrequently renest if they lose their first nest.

In greater sage-grouse (Centrocerus urophasianus), yearling males are capable of breeding, but most breeding is done by older males; yearling females often breed but somewhat less frequently than do older females (see Schroeder et al. 1999). Typical sage-grouse life span is 3-6 years, sometimes up to 9 years (Connelly et al. 2004).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Centrocercus minimus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 2 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

TCTTTACCTAATTTTCGGCACATGGGCAGGCATAATCGGCACAGCATTAAGCCTGCTAATCCGTGCAGAACTAGGACAACCCGGAACACTCTTAGGAGACGACCAAATCTATAACGTAATCGTTACAGCCCATGCCTTCGTCATAATCTTCTTTATAGTTATACCTATCATGATCGGAGGCTTTGGAAATTGATTAGTTCCCCTCATAATTGGCGCCCCGGACATAGCATTCCCACGCATAAATAACATAAGCTTCTGACTCCTTCCACCCTCTTTCCTCCTCTTACTAGCCTCATCCACTGTAGAAGCTGGGGCTGGTACCGGATGAACTGTCTATCCTCCCCTAGCCGGTAACCTCGCCCACGCTGGTGCATCAGTGGACCTAGCTATCTTTTCTCTTCATCTAGCAGGTGTATCATCAATCTTAGGAGCTATTAACTTCATTACTACCATTATTAATATAAAACCCCCCACACTAACACAATATCAAACACCCCTATTCGTATGATCTGTCCTCATCACTGCTATCCTTTTATTACTCTCTCTACCCGTCCTAGCTGCCGGAATTACAATATTACTTACCGATCGAAACCTTAACACTACATTCTTCGACCCTGCAGGAGGGGGAGACCCAGTCCTATATCAGCACTTANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Centrocercus minimus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
B2ab(i,ii,iii,v)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s
Braun, C., Martinson, W. & Young, J.

Justification
This species qualifies as Endangered because it has a very small occupied range which is severely fragmented and declining. Habitat fragmentation is particularly concerning given that the species requires a variety of adjacent habitats. Management strategies are being implemented which aim to reverse current population declines over the next 15 years.


History
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Not Recognized (NR)
  • Not Recognized (NR)