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Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Centrocercus minimus ORDER: GALLIFORMES FAMILY: PHASIANIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Endangered

Gunnison Sage-Grouse Photo

Gunnison Sage-Grouse are similar to, but rarer than, their close relative the Greater Sage-Grouse. They have the same spectacular courtship, where males gather on lekking grounds to puff themselves up, fan their tails into a starburst, and use bizarre pouches in their chests to make loud burbling noises. Females gather in flocks to decide which males to mate with, then raise the young entirely on their own. Gunnison Sage-Grouse are restricted to western Colorado and eastern Utah; they number about 5,000 and are federally threatened.

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Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Gunnison Sage-Grouse is a large grouse with a chubby, round body, small head, and long tail. Males change shape dramatically when they display, becoming almost spherical as they puff up their chest, droop their wings, and fan their tail into a starburst.

  • Color Pattern

    Sage-grouse are mottled gray-brown with a black belly. Males have a black head and throat. The breast has a fluffy white ruff that, during displays, surrounds a pair of inflatable, yellow air sacs. Females have a dusky cheek patch emphasized by white markings behind the eye.

  • Behavior

    For most of the year sage-grouse are inconspicuous, browsing on sagebrush and other plants at ground level. In March to May, males perform elaborate strutting displays on patches of bare ground called leks. Females gather to evaluate the males and choose which ones to mate with.

  • Habitat

    The remaining Gunnison Sage-Grouse occur in seven populations living in the sagebrush habitats of southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah.

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Gunnison Sage-Grouse Range Map
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Similar Species

Greater Sage-Grouse look very similar to Gunnison Sage-Grouse, but the two species do not overlap in range. Greater Sage-Grouse are larger, with less white barring in their tail feathers, and they lack the long, dense display feathers on the back of the head that give male Gunnison Sage-Grouse a pony-tailed look. Sharp-tailed Grouse typically live in grasslands rather than sagebrush. They are paler overall, with a pointed, white-edged tail, and they lack the Greater Sage-Grouse’s black belly. Dusky Grouse and Sooty Grouse live in forested and semiforested habitats but generally not in unbroken sagebrush. They are smaller and darker, with shorter tails and without the black belly. Female Ring-necked Pheasants are smaller, tan-buff overall, and also lack the black belly.

Find This Bird

The best way to see Gunnison Sage-Grouse is at a lek site—but be aware that sage-grouse are extremely sensitive to disturbance. Because of this species’ low numbers, only one lek is accessible to the public as of 2015. It’s the Wuanita Lek about 19 miles east of Gunnison, Colorado. Western State Colorado University hosts a page about the lek, its current viewing conditions, and behavior and precautions for lek viewing.

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