Sage Grouse, Sagebrush and Science
April 19, 2013
By Matt Miller, senior science writer
first published in The Nature Conservancy blog, April 19, 2013
They appear like ghosts before light: small groups of plump birds standing amongst the sagebrush. They puff up, tail feathers erect, chest extended. Large air sacs are inflated on their breasts, making a distinct plop.
I’m on the spring display grounds of the greater sage grouse, one of the arid West’s most iconic birds. Each spring males gather on these grounds, known as leks, to impress females with their display.
You have to get up early in the morning and sit motionless in the high desert. But you’ll be rewarded in the soft light of dawn, as sage grouse begin their show. It’s not unusual 15 males vying for the attention of female grouse on a lek, a site that grouse use year after year. (I’ve seen more than 50 on a lek at The Nature Conservancy’s Crooked Creek Preserve).
It’s one of the world’s most memorable wildlife spectacles. But finding it has grown increasingly difficult, as sage grouse continue to decline across their range.
Why are sage grouse on the decline? And is there anything we can do about it?
The Not-So-Endless Sage …
The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.