Sharp-tailed grouse cross the Canadian border for new home


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Jeff Heinlen, WDFW Biologist 509-826-7372

Public Affairs: Staci Lehman, 509-710-4511

OLYMPIA – It took an international team of early risers to increase the population of sharp-tailed grouse, an endangered species in Washington, during a two week mission in late April.


Washington State and Canadian biologists teamed up with a tribe, public utility district, conservation district and other agencies and groups to capture, fit with transmitters, and relocate 40 sharp-tailed grouse from habitat in British Columbia to Okanogan County, including on privately owned land.

“A public-private partnership like this is critical and we appreciate the landowners who were willing to have an endangered species released on their land,” said WDFW biologist Jeff Heinlen. “Our partners were a huge part of this success.”


Sharp-tailed grouse once numbered over 100,000 in Washington, but conversion of land to other uses reduced its habitat to less than five percent of what it once was. The bird was listed as threatened until recently, when it was reclassified as endangered due to continually dwindling numbers. WDFW has worked over the years to increase population numbers of the sharp-tailed grouse, including enhancing habitat and other translocation efforts like the one that was just completed.


Through a partnership with the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, WDFW was able to get a special permit to capture sharp-tailed grouse in areas of the Canadian province that have healthy populations, then release them in Washington. This is the second effort of its kind in two years, both of which were highly coordinated to ensure their success.


“This translocation mission took a lot of coordination to catch the birds, examine and tag them, and get them across the border within an extremely window of time,” said WDFW biologist Jeff Heinlen. “Some of our people were getting up at 3:30 in the morning to get this done.”

Two of the birds caught were fitted with solar-powered satellite transmitters that are new to the department and donated by a member of the public; just one of the ways the agency is integrating new technology into the work to help endangered species. Other birds captured in this effort were fitted with traditional VHF collars.

For details on the long journey the birds took to get to Washington, and photos and videos of the extravagant mating ritual that distracted them so biologists could capture the birds, read the latest post on the WDFW blog at

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is the state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish, wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing and hunting opportunities.


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