Until 2000, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse was thought to be the Greater Sage-Grouse, but we know now that it is a distinct species. It is characterized by a smaller body size, unique plumage, and low genetic variation, and there are differences in the spectacular mating displays and vocalizations the grouse are noted for.
Occupying 1,511 square miles, the bird is found only in six counties in Colorado, and one in Utah. The bird’s habitat is shrub-steppe (a type of low rainfall natural grassland) below 9,200 feet, including sagebrush, riparian areas, and meadows.
Sage-Grouse eat only sagebrush leaves during the winter and the important wintering sites may change within and between years, depending upon climatic conditions. Lek (mating dance ground) sites within the sagebrush are traditional breeding areas that the grouse return to each year.
The total estimated population size for Gunnison Sage-Grouse is less than 5,000 breeding birds. At present the population of the grouse is declining in and its distribution has been reduced substantially from historical levels. The most pressing threats to the species continue to be the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of its sagebrush habitat.
With ongoing development pressure and a growing human population, firm protection measures for its remaining habitat are urgently needed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the Gunnison Sage-Grouse as an endangered species and is currently accepting public comments on the proposal.