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Greater Sage-Grouse

Centrocercus urophasianus ORDER: GALLIFORMES FAMILY: PHASIANIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Near Threatened

Each spring, at dawn, the sagebrush country of western North America fills with a strange burbling sound and an even stranger sight. Dozens of male Greater Sage-Grouse puff their chests and fan their starburst tails like avant-garde turkeys. They inflate bulbous yellow air sacs and thrust with their heads to produce weird pops and whistles. The rest of the year these birds melt away into the great sagebrush plains that are their only home. Habitat fragmentation and development have caused severe declines for this spectacular bird.

Learn more about NestWatch
Birds of North America Online

Calls

Off the lek, males make a soft wut call when warning others of predators. Females give a variety of calls, though their function has not been well studied. When accompanying a brood, a soft, repetitive warning call indicates danger, while a single-note contact call helps keep chicks together. To distract or confront a predator, they use a loud hissing call. Females also call when soliciting males on the lek.

Other Sounds

The outlandish male strutting display is a complex, finely timed sequence of sounds, both vocal and mechanical. It begins with two wing swishes, separated by about one second, that are achieved by the male heaving his vocal sacs, enclosed in a neck pouch, through his wings that are held rigidly at his side. The swish sound is produced when the rough feathers on the neck pouch are dragged through his wings, and is only heard when the bird is very close by. Following the wing swishes is a short series of low, clear cooing notes, then two booming pops from in quick succession from the large yellow air sacs. Between the two pops is a whistle, and a few seconds after the display’s conclusion, the head is quickly raised to emit a huffing or snorting sound — thought to be a final release of air.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

The best way to see Greater Sage-Grouse is to visit a lek before dawn during the late winter and early spring (March to May). Leks can be very sensitive to disturbance, and some leks are closed to the public. Others are well prepared for public viewing and may feature viewing blinds or guided tours. The Sage Grouse Initiative has a page including directions and guidelines for minimizing disturbance while viewing sage-grouse leks.