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Seasonal Habitat Requirements for Sage-Grouse: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Wildlife Research

Date Published:  2005

Number of Pages: 5

Author(s): Clait E. Braun, John W. Connelly and Michael A. Schroeder

Sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus, C. urophasianus) are dependent upon live sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) for all life processes across their entire range. This paper describes habitats used by sage-grouse as documented in the scientific literature. The leaves of sagebrush are eaten by sage-grouse throughout the entire year and comprise 99 percent of their winter diets. Spring (late March through May) habitats are those with intermixed areas of taller (40 to 80 cm) sagebrush with canopy cover of 15 to 25 percent and taller (>18 cm) grass/forb cover of at least 15 percent. Sites used for display have shorter vegetation, frequently few or only short sagebrush plants, but with taller, more robust sagebrush within 100 to 200 m that is used for escape cover. Nesting cover mimics that used overall during spring but with clumps of tall (>50 cm), dense (about 25 percent) live sagebrush and abundant forbs (>10 to 12 percent cover). Early brood rearing areas are those within 200 m (initial 3 to 7 days posthatch) to 1 km (up to 3 to 4 weeks posthatch) of nest sites. Forbs and taller (>18 cm) grasses are important for broods; forbs provide succulent foods, grasses provide hiding cover, and the grass/forb mixture supports insects used by chicks. Summer use areas are those with abundant succulent forbs with live, taller (>40 cm), and robust (10 to 25 percent canopy cover) sagebrush useful for cover. These areas continue to be used into fall when sagegrouse move to higher benches/ridges where they forage on remaining succulent forbs such as buckwheat (Eriogonum spp.) and switch to more use of sagebrush leaves. Winter (early December to mid- March) use areas are often on windswept ridges, and south to southwest aspect slopes as well as draws with tall, robust live sagebrush. Height (25 to 35 cm) of sagebrush above the surface of the snow in areas used in winter is important, as is canopy cover (10 to 30 percent). Management of habitats used by sage-grouse should initially focus on maintaining all present use areas. Practices to enhance sagebrush habitats to benefit sage-grouse are reviewed, as is the need to annually monitor sage-grouse numbers along with systematic monitoring of the health of sagebrush ecosystems.

Suggested Citation:
Braun, C. E., J. W. Connelly, and M. A. Schroeder. 2005. Seasonal habitat requirements for sage-grouse: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Pages 38-42 in N. L. Shaw, S. B. Monsen, M. Pellant, editors. Sage-grouse habitat restoration symposium proceedings: 2001 June 4-7; Boise, ID. RMRS-P-38. Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, Colorado.