Greater Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)

greater sage grouse


  • Greater sage grouse are the largest of all North American grouse.
  • On average, males are 65 to 75 centimetres (26 to 30 inches) in length, and weigh about two kilograms (4 pounds).
  • Females average 48 to 58 centimetres (19 to 23 inches) in length and weigh about one kilogram (two pounds).


  • Males have a black belly and bib, and a white breast. Tail feathers are long and spiked.
  • Females have a black belly and mottled brown plumage over the rest of the body.
  • Greater sage grouse have experienced significant declines throughout their range in North America. Historically, sage-grouse were more widely distributed in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. In Alberta, they have experienced a 66 to 92 percent decline over the last 30 years. In British Columbia, they are considered extirpated.
  • In the USA, historically, greater sage grouse were found in at least 15 states. In these areas, similar to Canada, numbers have declined 50 to 80 percent in most areas.
  • In Alberta, the sage grouse is found only in the extreme southeastern corner of the province, east of the Milk River and south of Cypress Hills to the Saskatchewan border. The sage-grouse is also found in the southwestern corner of Saskatchewan.
  • Sage grouse probably do not migrate; instead they spend their winters within or near their summer range.
Natural History


  • Sage grouse depend almost entirely on sagebrush for diet and protective cover. This dietary restriction comes about because sage grouse lack a gizzard necessary for grinding seeds and other hard foods.
  • Juvenile sage grouse will also eat insects.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • In spring, groups of sage grouse gather at traditional courtship leks or dancing grounds.
  • The males inflate air sacs at their upper chests, puff out their white chest feathers, spread their pointed tail feathers and strut—booming as they go—to intimidate other males and attract females.
  • After mating, females move to nesting areas located in close proximity to leks, and typically near the previous years' nest site.
  • Egg laying is initiated within a few days.
  • Laying and incubation together last about 37 days, with 1.3 days elapsing between the laying of successive eggs.
  • Average clutch size is usually seven to nine eggs.
Conservation and Management


Greater sage grouse are classified as At Risk in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Greater sage grouse have been designated as Endangered under Alberta's Wildlife Act. It is illegal to hunt or harm these grouse, or disturb their nests anywhere or at any time in Alberta.

For more information on this species and the assessment and listing process, see:


  • Conversion of sagebrush and grassland habitats to croplands is the primary reason for dwindling numbers of sage-grouse in Alberta. However, overgrazing by cattle may also reduce habitat suitability, or increase the exposure of birds to predators and extreme weather.
  • Agricultural practices, however, are not the only threat to the sage-grouse. Activities associated with exploration for oil and gas can fragment and reduce the availability of suitable habitat and can disrupt breeding activities.
  • Climate is another factor that may be involved; short summers and harsh winters can have drastic effects on the ability of individuals to find enough food to survive year-round and reproduce in the spring. Drought might also limit the availability of herbaceous vegetation that is important to the sage-grouse during the summer.
  • An emerging threat is the West Nile Virus (WNV). In summer 2003, five sage-grouse deaths from WNV in Alberta were confirmed. Sage-grouse in Montana and Wyoming also died from WNV. It appears that sage grouse may be very susceptible to this virus, and biologists plan to monitor this situation closely.

Current management

As an Endangered species, the greater sage grouse is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act and it is illegal to kill or harass individuals or disturb their nests at any time of the year. This species is the subject of recovery planning and implementation in Alberta.


Page Information

Updated: Jan 8, 2014