Community Agriculture Alliance: Greater sage grouse
If you are a landowner and are thinking about chopping brush, think about timing and habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse. Sagebrush is necessary for sage grouse habitat.
In Colorado, greater Sage Grouse males establish territories on leeks (the areas where sage-grouse display and mate) in mid-March through early June. Timing varies annually one to two weeks depending on weather and snowmelt. Strutting will continue for about six weeks.
Nests are usually under a sagebrush plant. Incubation does not start until the last egg is laid. Eggs are incubated 27 to 28 days. Greater Sage Grouse nest abandonment is common, if the hen is disturbed. Hatching begins around mid-May and usually ends in July. Most eggs hatch in June; the peak is between June 10 and 20. Young chicks, having limited mobility, are not able to avoid machinery or other dangerous situations until they start to fly.
Habitat for the greater sage-grouse is predominately sagebrush. Sagebrush is required for all four seasons; breeding habitat (includes leeking, pre-laying, nesting and early brood rearing), summer, late brood rearing, fall and winter habitat. Breeding habitat, the leek or strutting ground, is usually located in openings adjacent to stands of sagebrush with canopy cover of 20 percent or greater. For pre-laying females, the habitat should contain a diversity of forbs rich in calcium, phosphorus, and protein. Nesting needs are live sagebrush 11 to 32 inches tall, with canopy cover of 15 percent, to 38 percent with substantial grasses and forbs in the under story. Few herbaceous plants are growing when nesting begins so residual herbaceous cover from the previous growing season is important for nest success.
Early brood habitat is typically close to the nest sight and is characterized by sagebrush stands with 10 to 25 percent canopy cover. High plant species diversity and moisture also is typical. Food and cover are the key factors related to chick survival. During the first 3 weeks after hatching, insects (beetles, ants and grasshoppers) are the primary food for chicks. Diets of 4- to 8-week-old chicks consist of more plant material, approximately 70 percent of the diet, of which 15 percent is sagebrush.
In Late-brood rearing, the principal food for adults, yearlings and juveniles (with the exception of some insects in summer) consists of leafy vegetation.
Fall and winter sees the increased use of sagebrush as the predominant diet of the sage grouse. Sagebrush is essential for year-around survival.
Chopping brush can be beneficial to the Greater Sage Grouse. Brush removal also benefits fire control, grazing, moisture retention, and weed control. If you are chopping sagebrush, avoid chopping large areas. In addition, it is very important to consider the timing and habitat needs of the Greater Sage Grouse.
Cost share for grouse habitat may be available from the Natural Resources Conservation Service or the Division of Wildlife.
For more information, contact Liza Graham at the DOW 970-871-2861, the NRCS at 970-879-3225, or the Routt county Extension Office at 970-879-0825.
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