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Adult male greater sage-grouse
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Subfamily: Tetraoninae
Genus: Centrocercus
Swainson, 1832
Sage and Gunnison Grouse Centrocercus urophasianus and minimus distribution map.png
Sage and Gunnison Grouse ranges[1][2]

The sage-grouse are the two species in the bird genus Centrocercus, C. minimus and Centrocercus urophasianus. They are distributed throughout large portions of the north-central and Western United States, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.[3] C. minimus is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature[4]

Males of C. urophasianus are the largest grouse from temperate North America, attaining a maximum weight of 7 pounds (3.2 kg). Adults have a long, pointed tail and legs with feathers to the toes. As in most Galliformes, there is pronounced sexual dimorphism.


The specific epithet is from another Greek word, "oura", plus "phasianos", pheasant. The noun "pheasant" was originally applied to a bird that was native to the valley of the Phasis River (now the Rioni River), which is located in Georgia. In the time of Lewis and Clark the word "pheasant" stood for "a genus of gallinaceous birds", according to lexicographer Noah Webster (1806), and the explorers often used it in that sense. "Gallinaceous" then referred to "domestic fowls, or the gallinae"; the family Galliformes (Latin "gallus", cock, and "forma", shape) now includes pheasants, grouse, turkeys, quail, and all domestic chickens.

Sage Grouse are also collectively known as sagehen, sage grouse, sage cock, sage chicken or cock of the plains.[5]


Lewis and Clark were credited with the "discovery" of five gallinaceous birds in addition to the sage grouse: the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, the dusky grouse, Franklin's grouse, the Oregon ruffed grouse, and the mountain quail.[6]

US military issues

In September 2016, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was stalled in Congress of the United States of America because the Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, indicated that he would not let the annual NDAA proceed to a vote in the House of Representatives unless it contained language to bar the sage grouse from the federal endangered species list until at least 2025. President Barack Obama threatened a veto over the issue, that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, John McCain, believed would be sustained. Current US Air Force spending on sage grouse conservation is around US$200,000, with eight known military installations having confirmed grouse populations: Dugway Proving Ground and Tooele Army Depot in Utah; Sheridan Training Area and Camp Guernsey in Wyoming; Hawthorne Army Depot and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada; Yakima Training Center in Washington, and Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.[7]


There are two species:

Image Name Common name Distribution
120px Centrocercus minimus Gunnison sage-grouse southwestern Colorado and extreme southeastern Utah
Centrocercus urophasianus -USA -male-8.jpg Centrocercus urophasianus Greater sage-grouse western United States and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada.

The Mono Basin population may represent a third species.

Courtship and mating

Centrocercus species are notable for their elaborate courtship rituals. Each spring males congregate on leks and perform a "strutting display." The male puffs up a large, whitish air sack on its chest, makes a soft drumming noise, and struts around with his tail feathers displayed and air sack puffed up. Groups of females observe these displays and select the most attractive males to mate with. Only a few males do most of the breeding. Males perform on leks for several hours in the early morning and evening during the spring months between February and April. Leks are generally open areas adjacent to dense sagebrush stands, and the same lek may be used by grouse for decades.[8]


Hens build nests and lay and incubate their eggs under the cover of sagebrush. The hen uses grass and forbs between patches of sagebrush for additional cover. During incubation, female Sand Grouse undertake recesses, where they leave the nest to undertake self-maintenance activities, thought these recess activities are typically within 250m of the nest. [9]

Chicks can walk as soon as they are hatched and are able to fly short distances within two weeks. Within five weeks they are able to fly longer distances.

Conservation status

Populations of sage grouse are in decline due to environment loss and decline of the pristine plains environments it requires to mate. The sage grouse is found in significant numbers within only half of the states comprising its original territories. The Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and other organizations have petitioned to list the grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

In March 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) concluded that greater sage-grouse are warranted for protection as "threatened" under the U.S. federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). However the USFWS also concluded that immediate listing was "precluded" by higher listing priorities for other jeopardized species. Thus they designated the species a "Level 8 Candidate" for addition to the list of threatened species at some future date. Their finding is being litigated by groups contending the species should immediately receive protections under the ESA.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigated some of the reasons for the declining sage-grouse population. Researchers observed cattle who share grazing land with the sage-grouse. They found that cattle, after consuming about 40% of the tussocks in between sagebrush bushes, will continue to consume the tussocks growing underneath the sagebrush, thereby destroying the nesting habitat for the sage-grouse.[10] In order to preserve the population of sage-grouse, ranchers can monitor the rate at which cattle consume the tussocks in between sagebrush bushes. Once cattle have consumed around 40% of the tussocks in between bushes, researchers ask that ranchers move their cattle to new grazing trail.

GPS trackers show that sage grouse congregate in small areas with certain resources, rather than being widely spread.[11]

US federal conservation plans have been met with lawsuits from wildlife organizations.[12]

On December 6, 2018, according to the New York Times:[13]

The Trump administration on Thursday published documents detailing its plan to roll back Obama-era protections for the vast habitat of the greater sage grouse, a chickenlike bird that roams across nearly 11 million acres in 10 oil-rich Western states.

The earlier proposal to protect the bird, whose waning numbers have brought it close to endangerment, was put forth under the Interior Department in 2015 and set out to ban or sharply reduce oil and gas drilling in 10.7 million acres of its habitat.

The Trump plan, by contrast, would limit the grouse’s protected habitat to just 1.8 million acres, essentially opening up nine million acres of land to drilling, mining and other development.

As a mascot

The sagehen is the mascot of the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens, the joint athletics program for Pomona College and Pitzer College, two of the Claremont Colleges.[14][15]


  1. BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Centrocercus urophasianus. In: IUCN 2014. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-06-27. Retrieved 2016-02-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link). Downloaded on 15 March 2015.
  2. BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Centrocercus minimus. In: IUCN 2014. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-06-27. Retrieved 2016-02-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link). Downloaded on 30 May 2015.
  3. "Species Profile (Greater Sage-Grouse urophasianus subspecies) - Species at Risk Public Registry". Registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca. Archived from the original on 2017-08-24. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  4. "Centrocercus minimus (Gunnison Grouse, Gunnison Grouse, Gunnison Sage Grouse, Gunnison Sage-Grouse)". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
  5. Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., 2007)
  6. From Discovering Lewis & Clark, http://www.lewis-clark.org © 1998–2008 VIAs Inc.
  7. Grouse About This: A Funny-Looking Bird Is Holding Up Key National Defense Legislation, Joe Gould, DefenseNews.com, 27 September 2016, accessed 29 September 2016
  8. "Sage-Grouse Unique Mating Display Explained". nationalgeographic.com. Archived from the original on 2015-06-08. Retrieved 2015-06-07.
  9. Dudko, J.E.; Coates, P.S.; Delehanty, D.J. (2019). "Movements of female Sage Grouse Centrocercus urophasianus during incubation recess". Ibis. 161 (1): 222–229. doi:10.1111/ibi.12670.
  10. "Sagebrush Rangelands Are for the Birds—and Cattle". USDA Agricultural Research Service. April 30, 2010.
  11. Scott Streater (June 11, 2015). "Massive wind project aims to save the sage grouse". Environment & Energy Publishing. 'You think of these birds as being scattered across the landscape, and they really are not. They are specialists,' he said. 'They go to the same areas that provide certain resources every year.'
  12. Scott Streater (February 25, 2016). "SAGE GROUSE: Enviros sue to force changes to federal plans". Environment & Energy Publishing.
  13. Coral Davenport (December 6, 2018). "Trump Plans Major Rollback of Sage Grouse Protections to Spur Oil Exploration". New York Times.
  14. "Pomona Pitzer Sagehens Athletics". Pomono College–Pitzer College. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  15. Bell, Alison (19 September 2010). "Theirs is a 'big game' of a different stripe". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 August 2020.

External links

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