WatchList Species Account for Gunnison Sage-Grouse
(Centrocercus minimus)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species

 

Gunnison Sage-Grouse by Wendy Shattil/Bob Rozinski

Photo: Noppadol-Paothongi

The Gunnison Sage-Grouse is now considered as a species separate from the Greater Sage-Grouse. It is characterized by a smaller body size, unique plumage, andlow genetic variation; differences in mating displays and vocalizations have also been noted. It is found only in six or seven counties in Colorado, and one in Utah. The Gunnison Basin in Colorado comprises over half its entire world range.

 

The bird’s habitat is shrub-steppe below 9,200 feet,including sagebrush, riparian areas, and meadows. The bird uses different habitats for leks, nesting, brood-rearing, and wintering.

 

Sage-Grouse eat only sagebrush leaves during the winter and depend on drainages on southern or westernly aspects for this food source. Winter sites are critical for the species and may change within and between years, depending upon climatic conditions. Lek sites are traditional areas that may have been used for thousands of years.

 

The total estimated population size for Gunnison Sage-Grouse is less than 4,000 breeding birds. At present the population of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse is declining in Colorado (it declined 11% in 1999 in the Gunnison Basin) and its distribution has been reduced substantially from historical levels.

 

The most pressing threats to the Gunnison Sage-Grouse continue to be the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of habitat. The use of ATVs is also a threat to the species.

 

Critical to the populations’ recovery is keeping specific breeding areas confidential. Some private landowners on lands where leks are located have put conservation easements on their property. The local, state, and federal agencies are actively trying to work to increase grouse numbers and those agencies are currently very aware of their importance to Sage-Grouse conservation.

 

Concern about the species' conservation status prompted the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management to take the lead in organizing a citizen-based group, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse Working Group, to develop a Conservation Plan for the bird in the Gunnison Basin. The plan was completed in 1997 and is now being implemented. The plan addresses threats such as decline in habitat quality, habitat loss and fragmentation, and physical disturbance to bird populations. Actions proposed by the plan include lek enhancement, riparian area restoration, nest habitat treatments, improved livestock management, developing Best Management Practices, and nest predator research.