Gunnison Sage-grouse Ecology & Conservation




Juvenile Gunnison Sage-grouse feeding, courtesy of Tony Apa and CPW.

Map showing the range of the Gunnison sage-grouse. From west to east, the map shows the Monticello-Dove Creek population, Pinion Mesa population, San Miguel basin population, Cerro Summit Cimarron Sims population, Crawford population, Gunnison basin population (the largest by far), and the Poncha Pass population.

The Gunnison Sage-grouse are close relatives of the largest species of grouse in North America, the greater sage-grouse. These grouse rely heavily on intact habitat dominated by sagebrush.  The sagebrush ecosystem’s plants provide food and cover for the birds year-round.

IUCN list: Endangered

Gunnison Sage-grouse are found specifically in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah within seven isolated subpopulations with all but 1 steadily declining as time has gone on. These grouse are classified as threatened and protected under the Endangered Species Act with less than 3,000 birds total across all 7 populations.


The birds partake in intricate mating rituals on relatively open areas called leks that occur within the sagebrush ecosystem.  Male sage-grouse begin arriving on leks typically in March and faithfully visit the lek daily until mid-May.  The females gather around the males as they perform their dances to evaluate the most suitable mate. Eventually, perhaps after several mornings of assessing males, a female chooses a male and invites mating.  After mating the female wanders off the lek and into the sagebrush where she finds a location to build a nest and lay her eggs.

Distinct from greater sage-grouse:
Although the birds appear very similar in photos to their relatives, the greater sage-grouse, they are classified as a different species. They are about two-thirds the size of the greater sage-grouse, and also differ in their behavior and morphological traits. The mating dance of the Gunnison Sage-grouse is different from the greater sage-grouse, and they have different banding patterns on their tail feathers as well as more prominent filoplumes (ponytail feathers). To see a Gunnison Sage-grouse lekking dance, watch the video on this page.