Greater sage grouse, the largest grouse in North America, inhabit sage grasslands of the Intermountain West, from Colorado to the Columbia Plateau and from southern Alberta to southern Utah. Closely tied to their habitat, these grouse feed solely on the sage plant in the winter while supplementing that diet with a variety of forbs, insects and grasses during the warmer months. Unlike many game birds, they do not possess a muscular crop and cannot digest hard seeds.
Come spring, sage grouse gather in clearings (known as leks) at dawn and dusk, where the dominant males attract mates with ritualized strutting, tail fanning and a variety of noises from their air sacs; most of the females mate with only one or two of the performers. Nests are placed on the ground and females are solely responsible for both incubation and protection of the young; six to twelve eggs are generally produced. Able to forage soon after birth, the young are vulnerable to a wide range of predators, including snakes, prairie falcons, crows, magpies, badgers, coyotes, bobcats and owls.
Once abundant across the American West, greater sage grouse have long been threatened by habitat loss; their population, estimated to have been about 16 million in the early 1900s, has fallen to less than 500,000 today, a drop of 97% over the past century. The loss of sage grasslands to mining, ranching and oil production has been primarily responsible for this decline and efforts to list the greater sage grouse as an Endangered Species have been successfully blocked by Western Governors and their Federal colleagues. Perhaps a 99% population decline will be more convincing.