Greater Sage Grouse Seedskadee NWR
Greater sage grouse live on sagebrush leaves , 99 percent of their diet, during winter months. Sage grouse lack muscular gizzards and cannot digest hard foods that require a gizzard to grind, like most other game birds. During the growing season, the birds will eat insects and forbs, but after the first frost hits, those food items disappear. Providing for greater sage grouse year round, seasonal habitats are needed in different stages of life – from chick to adult. There’s also seasonal variety and specific foods that hens must eat prior to laying eggs. Sagebrush is an essential component of their diet – but it’s not the only requirement. Throughout the year, the birds nip the leaves off of plants, and will also feed on buds, flowers, fruits and insects.
The range of greater sage grouse today covers 186 million acres in 11 western states and two Canadian provinces. However, three-quarters of the birds inhabit just 27 percent of the range. Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge is located in one of the core areas remaining for this species.
Throughout the year, sage grouse are social birds that are found in flocks. When not nipping off leaves for food, sage grouse spend time preening, dust-bathing, and avoiding predators. Sage grouse, not surprisingly, are tasty targets for predators in every season. From the air, the greatest threats are golden eagles. Other raptors also may prey on sage grouse, including red-tailed and ferruginous hawks. That’s why grouse avoid trees that offer raptor perches. From the ground, the birds have to watch for coyotes, foxes, and even bobcats occasionally. Nests attract a greater array of predators – like badgers, weasels, ravens, magpies and even snakes.
Sage grouse try to escape predation by crouching low to the ground, blending in with their surroundings, or hiding under shrubs. Their coloration provides excellent camouflage against the background of rocks, soil, and plants in which they live. They may fly away as well. A hen on a nest will attack ground squirrels to defend her eggs and chicks. She may also perform a distraction display—dragging her wings on the ground to look injured to draw a predator away from the nest, similar to a killdeer’s behavior.
Summer and fall are the best times to spot greater sage grouse on Seedskadee NWR. They are attracted to the Green River and wet meadows that provide insects, green vegetation, and water when the surrounding sage steppe landscape has dried up.
Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS