Sage grouse are the largest member of the grouse family found in North America. Greater sage grouse are located in the extreme southwestern corner of North Dakota. Adult females weigh more than 3 pounds while males are much larger at an average of more than 5 pounds. Males begin gathering on breeding grounds (strutting grounds or leks) in early spring, usually after the ground is free of snow. Most reproductive activity (breeding, nesting and brood rearing) is within a three-mile radius of the lek. Some populations are migratory and seasonal ranges are much larger than nonmigratory populations. Clutch sizes are relatively low when compared to other species of game birds, but sage grouse typically have higher annual survival. As their name suggests, sage grouse are closely allied with big sagebrush habitats, and rely on big sagebrush year-round for both food and cover. The big sagebrush food requirement is much more pronounced in fall, winter and early spring.
General Habitat Requirements
Sage grouse leks are typically in open areas surrounded by sagebrush, and are located in close proximity to nesting habitat. The lek serves as an approximate center of annual range for nonmigratory populations. Habitats used by breeding hens should provide a diversity of forbs, grasses and sagebrush. Most nests occur under sagebrush, although other plant species are used. Height of sagebrush used for nesting commonly ranges from 12-32 inches and generally has a larger canopy with more ground and lateral cover than surrounding cover. Grass height and cover are also important components of nesting habitat, with best success where grass cover is over 8 inches and occurs in sagebrush stands 16-32 inches tall. Early brood-rearing habitats may be relatively open stands of sagebrush with a good cover of grasses and forbs. Broods are attracted to insect-rich areas typically associated with diverse forb communities. Mesic sites are important during late summer as sagebrush habitats desiccate. Fall habitat is a mixture of summer and winter habitats, with the latter being big sagebrush stands with approximately 20 percent canopy coverage.
- Include big sagebrush in planting mixtures when reclaiming croplands, seeding lands in retirement (CRP), and grassland restoration areas.
- Control fires to prevent loss of sagebrush as sagebrush will take 30-plus years to reestablish.
- Control noxious/invasive species to prevent encroachment and domination of sagebrush and rangelands.
- Avoid constructing new fences through or near leks. If fences are located near leks, install visibility markers (vinyl strips, flags, PVC pipe, tape, or high visibility wire) to existing fences.
- Use prescribed grazing plans to eliminate overutilization of woody draws, mesic swales and riparian areas.
- Control tall woody vegetation, including single trees that act as raptor perches and raptor nest sites.
- Preserve native prairie. It is not recommended to convert native prairie for wildlife food plots, introduced grass species, trees, etc.