Gunnison Sage-grouse

Gunnison Sage-grouse
(Centrocercus minimus)

Viewing the Species | Grouse

Gunnison Sage-grouse male displaying in the snow.  Helen Richardson

Since the late 1970's researchers became aware that the sage-grouse in the Gunnison Basin of Colorado were unique from sage-grouse found elsewhere in most of the United States.  In 1995, Drs. Clait Braun and Jessica Young proposed that the Gunnison Sage-grouse was a distinct species and, along with Drs. Jerry Hupp, Sara Oyler-McCance and Tom Quinn, they published their findings in the Wilson Bulletin (Young et al. 2000), for which they were awarded the Edward's Prize for the best major article published by that journal that year.  The American Ornithological Union recognized the Gunnison Sage-grouse as a newly named species in 2000, after a review of the scientific data by the AOU Nomenclature Committee, which consists of the leading taxonomic specialists in North and Central America.

 Species Designation

Male Gunnison Sage-grouse displaying.

A species is on of the basic biological units used to understand patterns of biodiversity.  There are several factors that biologists take into consideration when determining how to apply the designation of species to a group.  While there are wide-ranging opinions on how to define a species, most species definitions or concepts consider physical, behavioral and genetic traits.  The most common species concepts used to define vertebrates are the biological species concept or the evolutionary species concept.  A review of the Gunnison Sage-grouse's physical, behavioral, and genetic characteristics supports species designation under the biological species concept.  When examined through the lens of the evolutionary species concept, it appears that the Gunnison Sage-grouse are reproductively isolated because traits important to reproduction are significantly different from other grouse, which arouse through sexual selection.  Molecular divergence in alleles not related to secondary sexual characteristics is proceeding at a slower pace (Young et al. 2000).

Gunnison Sage-grouse hen.

The traits that distinguish the Gunnison Sage-grouse include the following: they are about 2/3 the size of the Greater Sage-grouse (Hupp and Braun 1991), have differences in their plumage, and produce different mating vocalizations.  For example, note the whiter and more distinct tail feathers in the Gunnison male and the filoplume feathers being tossed over his head (see photos above), in comparison to the duller colors and simpler filoplumes of the Greater Sage-grouse male (above).  They use these traits in a highly elaborate strutting display that begins with a male taking a few steps forward as the wings are raised and lowered and brushed twice against the stiff feathers of his white pouch, producing loud swishing noises.  In addition to the mechanical noises produced by the wing movements, males utter a distinctive series of sounds by vocalizing and popping two air sacs within their pouches.  The entire display for both types of grouse lasts approximately three seconds.  Grouse in Gunnison differ in their display by performing fewer displays per minute; however, they pop their yellow air sacs nine times instead of two and create different sounds (Young et al. 1994).  Young (1994) found that females in the Gunnison Basin and northern Colorado avoided playbacks of male courtship vocalizations of the other species.  In addition, they have different visual aspects, such as throwing their filoplumes over their head and often wag their tail at the end of their display (Young, unpublished).

Gunnison Sage-grouse primary wing feathers. Juvenile.

Genetic evidence has shown that the Gunnison Sage-grouse are genetically distinct as well.  At the species level, Gunnison Sage-grouse have low levels of genetic diversity in both the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes when compared to the Greater Sage-grouse (Kahn et al. 1999, Oyler-McCance et al. 1999, Oyler Mc-Cance et al. 2005).  Dr. Oyler-McCance also identified that there is a significant amount of genetic structuring among Gunnison Sage-grouse populations, suggesting little gene flow occurs among existing populations.

Females have similar plumage in both species; however, Gunnison females are about 2/3 the size of the Greater Sage-grouse females.  In contrast to the difference seen in the male displays, ecological traits of females are quite similar in both species.  For example, nesting, brood-rearing, and non-brood site selection by Gunnison Sage-grouse hens are similar to those chosen by Greater Sage-grouse females throughout their geographical range.  In addition, despite the smaller body size of Gunnison Sage-grouse, egg and clutch sizes are in the same range as those observed in other populations (Schroeder et al. 1999).  Juvenile coloration matches adults, but can be distinguished by pointed, mottled and tattered outermost primary wing feathers (National Prairie Wildlife Research Center 2006).

Life History

Despite genetic, morphological, and behavioral differences, Gunnison Sage-grouse and Greater Sage-grouse are believed to have similar life histories and habitat requirements.  Most research about sage-grouse life history has been performed on Greater Sage-grouse, but the work can largely be applied to both species (GUSG RCP 2005, USFWS Federal Register).

Gunnison Sage-Grouse males assessing each other, prior to a wing fight.

Sage-grouse are sage obligate species; they require healthy, functioning sage ecosystems for year round survival.  Sage-grouse are also considered indicator species because, if the sage habitat is not healthy, grouse populations also suffer.  Due to high levels of natural variation in sage community composition, grouse are adapted to a mosaic of habitats to support their annual cycle (Birds of North America).  While most sage-grouse are non-migratory, some birds can move great distances to meet their dietary requirements and find their diverse seasonal habitats (GUSG RCP 2005).  Adult Gunnison Sage-grouse eat leafy vegetation and will also eat insects in summer.  Although sage leaves are their preferred food, grouse will also eat succulent forbs in summer.  The winter diet is completely sage based, requiring that some plants in winter habitat reach above the snow.  Chicks consume insects and some forbs during brood rearing, and their diet shifts to sage in fall (Birds of North America).

Annual survival rates vary: juvenile survival from hatch to fall is estimated to be 38%.  Adult females have higher annual survival rates than males, possibly due to more cryptic plumage and secretive nature, compared to the males' elaborate plumage and display activities (GUSG RCP 2005).  As birds age, the male to female sex ratio declines due to lower annual survival rates for males (Birds of North America).  Male survival rates are lowest during breeding season and female survival rates are lowest during nesting.  Predators include golden eagles, a variety of hawks and accipiters, coyotes, red foxes, and bobcats.  Nest predators include corvids, weasels, coyotes and badgers.  Nest success is considered the most significant parameter influencing population dynamics (Birds of North America).


Gunnison Sage-Grouse males fighting for their spot on the lek.

The sage-grouse annual cycle begins in mid-March, when the breeding season kicks off.  Males congregate on leks, or strutting grounds, which are relatively bare, flat areas in the sage ecosystem with good acoustic qualities and high visibility for females to asses the males' dance and vocalizations.  These areas also allow for easy predator detection.  Sites are usually located near good nesting habitat and good cover.  Males begin to attend leks in early March; however, timing varies depending on snowmelt, weather, and photoperiod.  Dominant males establish their position on the lek via wing fights and chases, usually trying to secure positions near the middle of the lek (Birds of North America).  Birds are highly philopatric, returning to exactly the same spot for generations, even displaying on the ice over the newly created Blue Mesa Reservoir where their lek had previously been (National Park Conservation Association 2011, High Country News 2002).  Males congregate to display for females from about an hour before dawn until about an hour after sunrise, with females showing up after males, and leaving while males are still displaying.  Males typically do not move more than 1.5 miles from the lek during this time (GUSG RCP 2005).

A lek system is polygamous, meaning females select which male to mate with and the male mates with several females.  Approximately 70% of the copulations are by dominant males and only 10-15% of males actually breed (Birds of North America, Gunnison Sage-grouse Local Plan).  This has significant conservation concerns because it reduces the effective population size (the number of individuals contributing genes to the next generation) below the absolute population size (the estimated total population) for males.  It also limits genetic variation within the population.  The lekking season runs for six weeks from mid-March to late-May, with the highest lek attendance typically occurring in the second week of April.  Females begin nesting as soon as they have bred, and the males provide no parental care.


Nesting typically begins late April to the beginning of May; although, in early snow melt years females have laid their first eggs as early as mid-April (Colorado Parks and Wildlife, unpublished data).  Research has shown that 70-80% of nests occur within two miles of leks, however, female Greater Sage-grouse have been found nesting up to 20 miles from the lek they bred at (Birds of North America).  Quality nesting habitat requires live sage with sufficient canopy cover to conceal the nest and a thick forb and grass understory.  Often, high vegetative diversity provides the best horizontal and vertical cover, in turn providing greatest protection from visual predators and helping with thermoregulation (Birds of North America, GUSG RCP 2005).

Gunnison Sage-Grouse hen. Photo (c) Gerrit Vyn

Nests are shallow bowls lined with feathers and leaves at the base of live sagebrush.  Clutch size averages 7 to 9 eggs, with yearling females having lower clutch sizes in some populations.  Incubation starts once the last egg is laid and occurs for 27 to 28 days (GUSG RCP 2005).

Sage-grouse have some of the lowest nest success rates of all upland game birds, with success rates ranging from 10 to 63% for Greater Sage-grouse (Birds of North America).  Young (1994) reported a 43.2% nest success rate for Gunnison Sage-grouse in the Gunnison Basin.  Nest abandonment occurs in up to 22% of nests, and is most common when the female is disturbed by human activity (Birds of North America).  Re-nesting is infrequent but does occur, with typically lower clutch sizes.  Hatching begins in mid-May and usually ends by July, with peak hatch occurring between June 10 and June 20 (GUSG RCP 2005).

Brood Rearing

Gunnison Sage-grouse chick. Photo (c) The San Miguel Basin Gunnison Sage-grouse Working Group. 

Chicks are precocial and leave the nest with the hen within days of hatching.  Hens with chicks move to areas containing succulent forbs and insects, often in wet meadows or riparian habitats where cover is tall enough to conceal the brood and provide shade.  High quality brood rearing habitat is often classified as having high forb species richness (GUSG RCP 2005).  Chick and juvenile survival depend on the availability of food and cover.  Insects (primarily beetles, ants and grasshoppers) are the main food source for chicks during the first three weeks of life.  From 4 to 8 weeks old, the diet shifts to include plant material, including a variety of succulent forbs and some sage (GUSG RCP 2005).  After three months, sagebrush becomes the main dietary component.  Adults will also eat some insects during spring and summer; however, forbs and sage dominate their diet.

Unsuccessful females and males will join females with broods in these wet meadows, but are not as dependent on the habitat type.  As autumn approaches, flocks and broods intermix as birds move from riparian areas to sagebrush dominated habitats that still provide some green forbs.  Sometimes sage-grouse will move into agricultural fields at this time of year.  Fringed sagebrush is a common transitional food as grouse shift from summer to winter diets (Birds of North America).


male displaying

A Gunnison Sage-grouse male displaying. Notice the distinct banding on the tail, a characteristic used to distinguish the sage-grouse species.

Flock size in winter varies form 15 to 100 birds with flocks often comprised of a single sex (GUSG RCP 2005).  Many males overwinter within several miles from their lek.  From the end of fall through early spring, sagebrush is almost the only component of sage-grouse diets.  Almost any kind of sage is consumed, though some birds select various subspecies for higher protein levels and lower monoterpene (plant defense chemical) levels (GUSG RCP 2005).  While birds may have low fat reserves after severe winters, individuals gain weight throughout most winters (Birds of North America, Hupp and Braun 1989, Beck and Braun 1978).  During harsh winters with high snow accumulation levels, grouse depend on very tall sage that is exposed above the snow.  In extreme winters, sage-grouse burrow into snow roosts for protection against the elements.  Grouse may associate with ungulates that uncover sage to browse on during the winter (Birds of North America, Patterson 1952).

Gunnison Sage-grouse have been documented moving as far as 17 miles to their winter habitat, but movements depend on severity of the winter, topography, and cover (GUSG RCP 2005).  Winter habitat requires tall sage, such as that found on ridges, drainages, or southwest aspects.

 Historic and Current Range

Gunnison Sage Grouse current occupied range and historic range. Map provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Historically, there has been a 90% or more loss in Gunnison Sage-grouse habitat leading to the current distribution today (Schroeder et al. 2004, GUSG RCP 2005).  The Gunnison Sage-grouse Range wide Steering Committee estimates the historic range was 21,276 mi2 and the current range is estimated to 1,822 mi2, which is 8.5% of the historic range (GUSG RCP 2005).  Today, only seven or eight populations of  Gunnison Sage-grouse remain, depending on how populations are divided (GUSG RCP 2005).  The estimated population sizes within each of the extant populations is a matter of significant concern.  Only one population, the Gunnison Basin population, is estimated to have more than 500 individuals during the breeding season and that population contains approximately 75% of all remaining individuals in the species.  The remaining seven populations are isolated and small, with high male counts during the 2012 breeding season ranging from 3 to 35 individuals.  Several populations have disappeared since 1980 (Braun 1995, Young et al. 2000).  Counts in 2005 were higher through much of the range as precipitation conditions returned to more normal levels after the 2002-2003 drought; recent drought conditions in 2012 are also a significant conservation concern.

The historic abundance prior to 1950 is unknown, but, based on historical documents and interviews, was likely orders of magnitude larger than present.  Even during the past decades, lek areas in the Gunnison Basin have seen over 500 displaying males present.  Currently, most leks in the Gunnison Basin have fewer than 50 males displaying and many have fewer than 20 males.  Approximately 40% of the leks in the Gunnison Basin are classified as inactive and no longer have birds displaying on them.  In other areas in the range, males have not attended leks for several years nor have new leks been discovered in adjacent areas.

Population Trends and Estimates

2001 - 2012 Lek Counts


Recent high male counts of males attending breeding grounds are provided courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), formerly the Colorado Division of Wildlife.  Current counts do not reflect the loss of birds from the 90% habitat loss calculated in the Gunnison Sage-grouse Range wide Conservation Plan, nor the inactive or extirpated leks in any population area.  As the Gunnison Sage-grouse Range wide Conservation Plan points out, lek data is most useful to determine long-term trends rather than population estimates.  Comparing particular counts or lek areas can be useful to understand potential and percent decline in local areas.  For example, in 1953, one lek area in the Gunnison Basin had over 500 birds attending it on a single day.  A recent high count of that Ohio Creek area indicated an over 40% decline according to the Range wide Conservation Plan.  In other areas of the range, Gunnison Sage-grouse have experienced greater than 90% declines on lek areas.  High counts for 2005 and 2006 in the Gunnison Basin may be due in part to habitat recovery following a severe drought.  Interestingly, smaller populations have not realized the same level of drought relief.  Recent counts have highlighted concerns that population numbers in seven of the eight populations are becoming less sustainable and more vulnerable given low counts of males at leks.  As mentioned above, there are also significant genetic diversity concerns associated with these small populations.


The counts displayed in the table above represents the high male counts (HMC) of males attending leks in the spring.  Red numbers indicate the lowest recorded HMC for that population, and green numbers indicate the highest recorded HMC for that population.  Note that, for the satellite populations, most of the lowest recorded counts occurred from 2009 to 2012 and most of the highest counts were recorded from 2001 to 2006.  Lek count procedures were standardized in 1997, so prior count data was not included.  There are two methods that have been used to estimate population sizes based on high male counts.  The first estimate, found in most local conservation plans and used for the majority of Greater Sage-grouse populations, results in an overall spring population estimate for 2012 of 3,768; the second method, found in the Gunnison Sage-grouse Range wide Conservation Plan, results in an estimate of 4,621.


The International Union for the Conservation of Species recognizes the Gunnison Sage-grouse as a red-listed, or globally endangered, species  (Storch 2000).  In 2006, the Audubon Society listed the Gunnison Sage-grouse as one of the 10 most endangered birds in North America.  Also in 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) removed the species from any protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with a listing determination.  Central to the listing determination is the conclusion that the population has experienced no significant decline during the past decades, a finding that is in direct contrast to the Gunnison Sage-grouse Range wide Conservation Plan published in 2005.  The USFWS reconsidered the listing status of the species in 2010 and once again recognized them as a Candidate Species, meaning protection is warranted but precluded by higher priority listed species.

Endangered Species Proposed Rule

In January 2013, the USFWS proposed listing the species as an Endangered Species.  In addition, they proposed 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for the species.  Following a sixty day comment period (ending March 12) and an economic analysis comment period, the USFWS will re-evaluate their decision and either maintain status as Endangered or down-list the species to Threatened.  A final listing decision is expected in September 2013.  For more information, and links to the Federal Register (listing decision and critical habitat designation documents) visit the USFWS Gunnison Sage-grouse website.

Gunnison Sage-grouse displaying. 

Indicator Species

Wildlife agencies in the United States now recognize that Gunnison Sage-grouse are indicator species for shrub-steppe habitat.  An indicator species is one which, because of its unique life history and strong reliance to certain ecosystem areas, provides biologists with an indication of ecosystem health.  These grouse are an ideal indicator species for uplands dominated by sagebrush (Young 1994).  For example, they require a variety of habitats such as large expanses of sage with a diversity of grasses and forbs and healthy riparian ecosystems.  Their habitat requirements differ during most of the year and differ for sex and age classes.  Therefore, the presence of each habitat type in healthy condition in close proximity to winter, lek, nest and brood-rearing habitat is essential.  A large percent of each seasonal habitat must be in the later seral stages of ecological succession to meet the requirements of the grouse.  If the sagebrush ecosystem is healthy (for example: the soil is stable with little accelerated soil erosion; ecological functioning is maintained with several trophic levels of nutrient cycling; and plant and animal communities are diverse and productive), then grouse populations and productivity will indicate the success of land use management.  Surveying trends in land productivity and populations of grouse can be a useful management tool for assessing the sagebrush steppe-ecosystem health.

Habitat Loss and Fragmentation

The key to maintenance of any species is providing sufficient habitat.  Some causes of habitat loss and fragmentation for Gunnison Sage-grouse in the Gunnison Basin include: recreation, increased road density, the formation of Blue Mesa reservoir, housing and exurban developments, Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action, power lines and reduction of riparian areas.  USFWS considers development and associated habitat fragmentation from roads, power lines and fencing to be the greatest threat Gunnison Sage-grouse face.  A second problem is the quality of existing habitat present.  Some impacts which cause a decline in habitat quality are: excessive livestock grazing, drought, land treatments, increased elk and deer populations reducing shrub vigor and distribution, and herbicides.  Increasingly, oil and gas exploration in the southwestern portion of the species range is threatening habitat for breeding, nesting, and brood-rearing.

An example of the importance of good habitat can be seen in the photos above.  Female Gunnison Sage-grouse are more likely to have a successful nest when vegetative cover is present.  Loss of forbs and grasses can lead to increased risk of predation and decreased chances of success for young broods as they emerge from their nests.

Habitat Restoration

Case study with the Gunnison Climate Working Group: Climate Adaption Demonstration Project

[Restoration Project]

The Nature Conservancy is working with the Gunnison Climate Working Group to reduce the impacts of climate change on nature and people in the Gunnison Basin.  The multiagency collaborative group recently completed the first year of a climate adaptation project to build resilience of riparian and wetland habitats across the Basin. Last fall, Bill Zeedyk, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, Western State Colorado University, along with landowners, partners and volunteers, built over 100 rock structures, called one rock dams, along streams at two sites on private land.  This collaborative project will help improve and restore Gunnison Sage-grouse brood rearing habitat at a previously incised drainage.  To view a video about the project created by Claudia Strijek, visit Strijek Design (note: you need QuickTime to view the video) or see the video on YouTube.

Trap and Transplant Program

Colorado Parks and Wildlife began a trap and transplant program in 2009 (then as the Colorado Division of Wildlife) to augment the satellite populations.  Because the satellite populations have been declining for several years and are of significant conservation concern, the program began as a way to add birds to the struggling populations.  It is also a way of increasing genetic diversity between the populations and prevent inbreeding.  A sustainable number of birds are moved from the Gunnison Basin population to satellite populations every spring and fall.  Augmented satellite populations include Crawford, Dry Creek, Dove Creek and Pinyon Mesa.

The trap and transplant program: (top right) a Gunnison Sage-grouse male being fitted with a transmitter during trapping, (middle right) the transport box at Crawford, (bottom right) male sage-grouse being released, (left) male flying towards the West Elks by Crawford. 

Conservation Plans

The local Gunnison Basin Sage-grouse Conservation Plan, published in 1997, can be obtained from the Gunnison Resource Area office of the Bureau of Land Management.  Within the plan, specific conservation goals and objectives are proposed to restore habitat and population numbers of the Gunnison Sage-grouse to the Gunnison Basin.  In addition, over 50 conservation actions are proposed.  Organizations involved with creating the plan include the Black Canyon Audubon Society, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (formerly the Colorado Division of Wildlife), Gunnison County Stock growers Association, Gunnison County, High Country Citizens Alliance, National Park Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and Western State Colorado University (formerly Western State Colorado University).

Gunnison Sage-grouse chick walking away from a successful nest.

The Gunnison Sage-grouse Range wide Conservation Plan, published in 2005, can be obtained from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website through downloading a series of PDF's.  Biologists from the following agencies contributed to the plan: Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, National Park Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Each local working group (except Cerro-Cimarron-Sims) has created their own local conservation plan:

Crawford 1998; Crawford 2011
Dove Creek 1998
Gunnison Basin 1997
Pinyon Mesa 2000
Poncha Pass 2000
San Juan County, Utah 2003
San Miguel Basin 1998

Viewing the Grouse

Waunita Lek Watchable Wildlife Site

Waunita Watchable Wildlife Site private viewing area. See Sisk-a-dee's website for parking information, when to arrive, and where to see the birds. Photo by Dr. Pat Magee.

The only public viewing site for Gunnison Sage-grouse is the Waunita Watchable Wildlife Site located approximately 19 miles east of Gunnison, Colorado. Please contact Sisk-a-dee at (970) 641-3959 for current information about viewing the Gunnison Grouse.  Sisk-a-dee maintains an excellent viewing website with the most recent viewing information, maps, and viewing protocols.  The Waunita Watchable Wildlife Site is monitored daily by volunteers from Sisk-a-dee, Western State Colorado University and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.  Volunteers count birds, monitor disturbances, and educate visitors about responsible wildlife viewing.

When viewing Gunnison Sage-grouse, please keep in mind that they are highly sensitive to human disturbance. Loud, unusual sounds such as car doors slamming, radios, human voices, dogs, and people walking through brush can cause the birds to fly off.  Continual disturbances can ultimately result in these birds permanently abandoning their traditional lek sites.  Despite protocol implementation, birds trend toward flushing earlier and earlier since the lek site was established.  While the Gunnison Basin population as a whole tends to be relatively stable, the Waunita lek is on a significant downward trend (Hicks and Magee 2012, unpublished report).  It is difficult to reconcile optimal viewing opportunities with changing bird behavior and lower relative abundance; therefore, it is extremely important that visitors follow lek viewing protocol to minimize impacts.

To reduce your impact, arrive at the lek viewing area well before sunrise (at least one hour prior) and view the birds from inside your vehicle using a spotting scope or binoculars.  It is essential that you remain inside your vehicle and remain as quiet as possible.  Also, please refrain from starting up your vehicle and leaving the area until after the birds have completed their morning display.  Your efforts will help reduce any unnecessary stress on the birds and will provide for a better viewing experience for yourself and others.

View at the Waunita Watchable Wildlife Site. Photo (c) Marcella Fremgen. 

Waunita Watchable Wildlife Site viewing trailer. Photo (c) Dr. Pat Magee.

During the 2012 viewing season, the high lek counts were early in the season, likely due to an early snow melt and above-average temperatures.  The high male count was 22; the high female count was 12.  The total grouse count was highest on April 1st with a total of 25 grouse, which was down from 51 in 2011.  The grouse counts were the lowest the site has seen since 2004.  In addition, birds flushed before sunrise 95% of the days monitored.

The Watchable Wildlife Site had the lowest visitor total ever recorded with 327 visitors, from local enthusiasts and volunteers to commercial viewers from as far as Canada, the Netherlands, and Japan.  The viewing trailer was occupied 15 out of 40 days during the viewing season.

Viewing the lek from a private vehicle. Photo (c) Aleshia Fremgen. 

Volunteers also monitor disturbances to the lek.  Disturbances can include protocol violations, cars on the Waunita Road, and predators.  In 2012, disturbances resulting in single or multiple birds flushing from the lek included weather (1 day), coyotes (3 days), golden eagles (3 days), human related disturbances (3 days) and other reasons (2 days).

Protocol violations are highest among private vehicle (31% of private vehicles  violated protocol in 2012) and lowest in commercial bird-viewing groups (4%) and volunteers (2%).  Protocol violations include arriving late, being noisy, idling the car, and leaving before all birds are done displaying.  In 2012, the majority of violations were visitors arriving late.

Volunteer effort is very important to the Waunita Site.  In 2012, volunteers put in a combined 324 hours to lead commercial viewing groups, monitor the birds and monitor visitors.  If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Dr. Patrick Magee (


Photographing Gunnison Sage-grouse

Photographing Gunnison Sage-grouse has become a popular request among wildlife and/or avian photographers.  Photography, audio recording and video recording access is limited to two photographers per lek season.  For more information about photographing the Gunnison Sage-grouse, contact Jim Cochran at or (970) 641-7604.  Applications must be submitted by February 1 each year.

For information about traveling to Gunnison and finding accommodations, please visit the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association website or call (800) 814-7988.

Links, News Articles, and  Information about the Gunnison Sage-grouse

Gunnison Sage-grouse Strategic Committee works at prioritizing and implementing conservation actions for grouse in the Gunnison Basin

Gunnison County Conservation Program  hosts the Strategic Committee and incorporates grouse management into their county planning

Sisk-a-dee is the only organization completely dedicated to the conservation of the Gunnison Sage-grouse

High Country Citizen's Alliance also maintains a Gunnison Sage-grouse page with current conservation information

The Gunnison Sage-grouse Range wide Conservation Plan was created by an interagency team in 2005 and has important biological information and conservation assessments and goals

Sagebrush Sea has a wealth of information and news releases from the environmental communities' perspective

Gunnison Trails maintains a Gunnison Sage-grouse website and helps educate and inform recreationists

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has a Gunnison Sage-grouse webpage that has current information about its US conservation status, as well as links to the Federal Register

Colorado Parks and Wildlife maintains a Species of Special Concern website about the grouse

GIS Database for Sage Grouse and Shrubsteppe Management in the Intermountain West

High Country News - "A Scarce Bird Tests the New Rule" article from the High Country News in 2000

"The Grouse Effect" article from the National Park Conservation Association, 2011

"Newly Discovered, Nearly Extinct" article from the New York Times, 2013


Gunnison Sage-grouse Specific Literature

Aldridge, C. L., JD. J. Saher, Joanne, T. M. Childers, K. E. Stahlnecker, and Z. H. Bowen.   2012 Crucial Nesting Habitat for Gunnison Sage-grouse: A Spatially Explicit Hierarchical Approach. The Journal of Wildlife Management.  76(2) 391-406.

American Ornithological Union. 2000. Forty-Second supplement to the American Ornithologists Union Check-list for North American Birds. The Auk 117(3):847–858.

American Ornithological Union. 2002. Forty-Second supplement to the American Ornithologists Union Check-list for North American Birds. The Auk 119(3):897–906.

Commons, M.L. 1997. Movement and habitat use by Gunnison Sage Grouse (Centrocercus minimus) in southwestern Colorado. M. S. thesis. Univ. Manitoba, Winnipeg.

Gill, F. and M. Wright. 2006. Birds of the World: Recommended English Names. Princeton University Press.

Hupp, J. W. and C. E. Braun. 1991. Geographical variation among sage grouse populations in Colorado. Wilson Bull. 103: 255-261.

Kahn, N. W., C. E. Braun, J. R. Young, S. Wood, D. R. Mata, and T. W. Quinn. 1999.  Molecular analysis of genetic variation among large- and small-bodied Sage Grouse using mitochondrial control-region sequences. The Auk 116(3):819-824.

Oyler-McCance, S.J., N.W. Kahn, K.P.Burnham, C.E.Braun, and T.W. Quinn. 1999. A population genetic comparison of large and small-bodied sage grouse in Colorado using microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA markers. Molecular Ecology 8: 1457-1465.

Oyler-McCance, S.J., K.P. Burnham, and C.E. Braun. 2001. Influence of changes in sagebrush on Gunnison sage grouse in Southwestern Colorado. Southwestern Naturalist 46(3): 323-331.

Oyler-McCance, S.J., J. St. John, S.E. Taylor , A.D. Apa, and T.W. Quinn. 2005. Population genetics of Gunnison sage-grouse: implications for management. Journal of Wildlife Management 69(2): 630-637.

Young, J.R. 1994. The influence of sexual selection on phenotypic and genetic divergence of Sage Grouse. Ph.D. dissertation. Purdue University, IN, USA

Young, J. R., Hupp, J. W., Bradbury, J. W., & Braun C. E. 1994. Phenotypic divergence of secondary sexual traits among sage grouse Centrocercus urophasianus populations. Anim. Behav. 47:1353-1362.

Young, J. R., Braun, C. E., Oyler-McCance, S. J., Hupp, J. W. and T. W. Quinn. 2000. A new species of Sage-Grouse from Southwestern Colorado . Wilson Bulletin 112(4):445-453.

Grouse Conservation Literature and Relevant Greater Sage-grouse Literature

Braun C.E. 1998. Sage Grouse Declines in Western North America. What are the Problems? Proc Western Assoc. State Fish and Wildl. Agencies 78:139-156.

Connelly, J.W., M. A. Schroeder, A. R. Sands, and C. E. Braun. 2000. Guidelines to manage sage grouse populations and their habitats. Wildlife Society Bulletin 28 (4): 967-985.

Hupp, J. W. and C. E. Braun. 1989. Topographic distribution of sage grouse foraging in winter. J. Wildl. Manage. 53: 823-829.

Hupp, J. W. and C. E. Braun. 1989. Endogenous reserves of adult male sage grouse during courtship.  Condor: 91(2): 266-271

Schroeder, M. A., Young, J. R. and C. E. Braun 1999. Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus): In:The Birds of North America 425:1-28. (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim and F. Gill, Eds.) The Birds of North America, Inc. Philadelphia , PA.

Schroeder, M.A., C.L. Aldridge, A.D. Apa, J.R. Bohne, C.E. Braun, S.D. Bunnell, J.W. Connelly, P.A. Deibert, S.C. Gardner, M.A. Hilliard, G.D. Kobriger, S.M. McAdam, C.W. McCarthy, J.J. McCarthy, D.L. Mitchell, E.V. Rickerson, and S.J. Stiver. 2004. Distribution of sage-grouse in North America. Condor 106: 363-376.

Schroeder, M. A., J. W. Connelly, C. L. Wambolt, C. E. Braun, C. A. Hagen, and M.R. Frisina. Society for Range Management. 2006. Ecology and Management of Sage-Grouse and Sage-Grouse Habitat - A Reply. pp 3-6.

Storch, Illse (2000). Grouse Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan 2000-2004. WPA/BirdlifeSSC Grouse Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland. Switzerland and Cambridge. 112 pp.

Habitat and Sagebrush Management Literature

Baker, W. L. 2006. Fire and Restoration of Sagebrush Ecosystems. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 34:(1) 177-185.

Entwistle, P.G., A.M. DeBolt, J.H. Kaltenecker, and K. Steenhof, compilers. 2000. Proceedings: Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystems Symposium. Bureau of Land Management Publication No. BLM/ID/PT-001001+1150, Boise , Idaho , USA.

Lysne, Cindy R.  2005.  Restoring Wyoming Big Sagebrush.  In: Shaw, Nancy L.; Pellant, Mike; Monsen, Stephen B., comps. 2005. Sage-grouse habitat restoration symposium proceedings; 2001 June 4–7, Boise , ID. Proc. RMRS-P-38. Fort Collins , CO : U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 93-98.

Management Considerations for Sagebrush (Artemisia) in the Western United States, Bureau of Land Management 2002. A selected literature summary of sagebrush management research.

Monsen, Stephen B.; Shaw, Nancy L.   2000.  Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) communities: ecology, importance and restoration potential.  Billings Land Reclamation Symposium, 2000 : striving for restoration, fostering technology and policy for reestablishing ecological function : March 20-24, 2000, Sheraton Billings Hotel, Billings , Montana . Bozeman : Montana State University , 2000. Publication no. 00-01.

Paige, C., and S. A. Ritter. 1999. Birds in a sagebrush sea: managing sagebrush habitats for bird communities.  Partners in Flight Western Working Group, Boise, ID.

Sedgewick, James. 2004. A literature review - Habitat restoration for Gunnison Sage-Grouse.

Shaw, Nancy L.; Pellant, Mike; Monsen, Stephen B. 2005. Sage-grouse habitat restoration symposium proceedings. Proc. RMRS-P-38. Fort Collins , CO : U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 130 p.

Other Relevant Literature



Photos and images provided by Mike Danzenbaker, Noppadol Paothong, Helen Richardson/Denver Post, Dave Showalter, Gerrit Vyn, the San Miguel Basin Gunnison Sage-grouse Working Group, Mike Mortensen, Clay Greathouse, Marcella Fremgen, Aleshia Fremgen, Brooke Vasquez, and Dr. Patrick Magee.