Living Bird Magazine
Greater Sage-GrouseCentrocercus urophasianus
- ORDER: Galliformes
- FAMILY: Phasianidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Gallo de las artemisas grande (Spanish)
- Tétras des armoises (French)
- Cool Facts
- Although many male Greater Sage-Grouse may display at a lek, only one or two males get picked by a majority of the females for mating. Scientists have recorded a single male copulating 37 times with 37 different females—and coincidentally the whole thing took 37 minutes. This isn’t all that uncommon for the top males at a lek. Most of the females mate with the same one or a few males—putting intense pressure on males to be the best.
- Over the harsh winter, sage-grouse actually manage to gain weight and strength in preparation for the breeding season by feeding on the leaves of sagebrush. They get water from feeding on snow.
- In preparation for a strutting display, male Greater Sage-Grouse can gulp and hold a gallon of air in a pouch of their esophagus. By squeezing it out with force, they begin their display.
- The sound from the males’ booming display is actually loudest off to each side, not straight ahead. That’s why you may see displaying males standing to the side of a female instead of in front of her.
- Like many other grouse species, the Greater Sage-Grouse male plays no role in the raising of the young. Males display on dancing grounds known as leks. Females visit the leks to obtain matings, and then go off to raise their brood by themselves.
- Traditional lekking grounds may be used for years.
- Sage-grouse have a specialized stomach that digests the tough sage-brush, their main food.
- Greater Sage-Grouse can live up to 9 years in the wild, but more often 3–6 years. Females tend to be longer-lived, due to high predation of males on leks.