Sage-grouse (Photo by Gordon Court)
Learn about a bird whose elaborate courtship dance is one of North America’s most incredible wildlife spectacles.
The greater sage-grouse is brownish-grey on top, and its tail is black and white. Adult males have a white band on a black breast and a collar of pointed white feathers, along with a pointed tail. Both sexes sport a black belly.
This species is found in western North America in areas where sagebrush grows, including southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. The bird is extirpated (locally extinct) from BC.
Each spring, greater sage-grouse congregate in areas called leks. Here, males display elaborate courtship dances for females. As the males strut, they inflate and deflate their throat sacs with a popping sound, throwing their heads back, spreading their wings and fanning out their tails.
Greater sage-grouse populations are limited to sagebrush grasslands. In the summer, sagebrush makes up more than 60 per cent of the adult greater sage-grouse’s diet, along with flowers and buds from forbs. In the winter, sagebrush makes up its entire diet.
You can help protect habitat for greater sage-grouse. To find out how, visit giftsofnature.ca.
Greater sage-grouse recovery project
Although it was once common across the western prairie, the population of greater sage-grouse decreased by an estimated 80 per cent over the past 30 years. Today, fewer than 250 wild greater sage-grouse remain in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.
The birds were designated as endangered in Canada under the Species at Risk Act, primarily due to native grassland habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation due to oil and gas exploration and the conversion of grassland to cropland.
In 2014, the federal and provincial governments pledged funding to help protect greater sage-grouse, enabling the Calgary Zoo to begin a dedicated conservation breeding and reintroduction program.
In 2016, the zoo announced the creation of Canada’s first-ever greater sage-grouse breeding facility: the Snyder-Wilson Family Greater Sage-Grouse Pavilion. Since then, the zoo has established a healthy population of 54 sage-grouse that makes up the conservation breeding flock.
In fall 2018, the Calgary Zoo released 66 birds at two protected locations. One of the sites, provided by Parks Canada, is in Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. The other is on Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) conservation lands in southeast Alberta.
The Bell-Sage-Grouse Legacy Project
Barbara Bell was a caring NCC supporter who included a gift to NCC in her Will. It was her wish that this gift contribute to a legacy for conservation while helping an endangered species to recover.
With this gift, NCC has invested in a new conservation site surrounded by native grassland in prime greater sage-grouse habitat. This property will be named the Bell-Sage-Grouse Legacy Project.
Barbara’s legacy will be carefully managed to support NCC’s role in habitat restoration and the ongoing stewardship of this site and of other vital prairie grassland conservation sites.
The Bell-Sage-Grouse Legacy Project started as an agricultural field that had not been planted for approximately five years. In the coming years, NCC will undertake the restoration of this 65-hectare (160-acre) parcel of land. This restoration work is a collaborative effort supported by the Alberta Conservation Association and Alberta Environment and Parks.
NCC looks forward to this site becoming an intact parcel of native prairie that provides continuous habitat for greater sage-grouse and other native grassland species.
With this investment, the impact of Barbara’s generous support will be felt across Alberta’s grasslands for generations.
This story first appeared in the fall 2019 issue of the Nature Conservancy of Canada Magazine. Donors who contribute at least $25 or more per year will receive four issues of the magazine. Click here to donate today and start receiving the magazine.