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Gunnison Sage-Grouse


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.



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, females have both a contact call, and a call to warn their young of danger. 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 three wing shushes, 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 shush 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. In between the wing shushs are a set of low coos and pops that collectively sound like a bubbling. After the three shushes, the male expels air from his esophageal sac, making a burp-like sound, and shimmies his tail.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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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