Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Centrocercus minimus

  • Version: 2.0 — Published October 1, 2015
  • Jessica R. Young, Clait E. Braun, Sara J. Oyler-McCance, Cameron L. Aldridge, Patrick A. Magee, and Michael A. Schroeder

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Figure 1. Distribution of Gunnison Sage-Grouse.

Adult male Gunnison Sage-Grouse performing 'Strut' display, Gunnison Basin, CO, April.

A male Gunnison Sage-grouse performing a strut display on a lek in the Gunnison Basin, Colorado. Gunnison Sage-grouse pop their air sacs 9 times instead of the 2 typical of the Greater Sage-grouse during their mating displays. Image by Noppadol Paothong.

Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus spp.) are closely associated with sagebrush (Artemisia) ecosystems in western North America. Those Sage-Grouse occurring in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah exhibit unique characteristics that have been considered sufficient to treat these birds as a distinct species – the Gunnison Sage-Grouse (C. minimus) (Young et al. 2000). Gunnison Sage-Grouse are geographically isolated from populations of Greater Sage-Grouse (C. urophasianus) and number fewer than 5,000 individuals (USDI 2013). The small numbers of Gunnison Sage-Grouse distributed within fragmented landscapes provide a challenge for conservation and management efforts (Oyler-McCance et al. 2001, Braun et al. 2014). Considered a globally endangered species by key conservation groups, Gunnison Sage-Grouse have also been designated as Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Gunnison Sage-Grouse, in comparison with Greater Sage-Grouse, are substantially smaller and lighter with shorter rectrices, more distinct white barring on the rectrices, and are genetically distinct (Oyler-McCance et al. 1999, Oyler-McCance et al. 2015). In addition, male Gunnison Sage-Grouse have longer and thicker filoplumes, and have distinct courtship displays (Young et al. 1994). Although the species has been distinctively different from Greater Sage-Grouse for millennia, limited research has focused on the Gunnison Sage-Grouse. Naturally, initial research on the Gunnison Sage-Grouse focused on factors describing the species, such as morphology (Hupp and Braun 1991), breeding behavior (Young et al. 1994), and genetics (Oyler-McCance et al. 1999), which led to its formal recognition as a distinct species (Young et al. 2000). More recently, other studies have described various aspects of habitat (Oyler-McCance et al. 2001, Aldridge et al. 2012), movement behavior (Commons 1997), effective population size (Stiver et al. 2008), population genetics (Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, Oyler-McCance et al. 2015), population dynamics (Davis et al. 2014, 2015; Stanley et al. 2015), and historical distribution (Braun et al. 2014, Braun and Williams 2015). This account emphasizes studies specific to Gunnison Sage-Grouse, but incorporates information on Greater Sage-Grouse as appropriate.

Recommended Citation

Young, J. R., C. E. Braun, S. J. Oyler-McCance, C. L. Aldridge, P. A. Magee, and M. A. Schroeder (2015). Gunnison Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus minimus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. Retrieved from Birds of North America: