From the Magazine

Umbrella Species: Greater Sage Grouse

Protecting the West's sagebrush landscape goes way beyond merely protecting the greater sage-grouse. 

The greater sage-grouse is famous for its elaborate courtship displays, with males strutting, fanning their tail feathers, and popping the yellow air sacs on their breasts to create a whup sound that can be heard up to two miles away. These charismatic birds, which are strongly tied to the sagebrush steppe landscape of western North America, are threatened by habitat degradation, largely due to farming, invasive plants, and, increasingly, oil and gas development. To protect the bird in the 11 states where it occurs, the federal government has adopted a “core-habitat” strategy, pioneered in part by Audubon, which aims to limit development on lands most critical to the species’ survival. Conserving the sage-grouse, an “umbrella” species, helps protect a wide array of other wildlife that rely on the same habitat. Here’s a look at some of the plants and animals likely to benefit from greater-sage grouse conservation.


Brewer’s sparrow

Loggerhead shrike

Sage sparrow

Sage thrasher

Vesper sparrow ma

Western burrowing owl


Kit fox

Merriam’s shrew

Mule deer


Pygmy rabbit

Sagebrush vole

White-tailed jackrabbit

Wyoming ground squirrel


Other Vertebrates

Common sagebrush lizard

Great Basin spadefoot

Striped whipsnake



Big sagebrush

Flatspine stickseed

Fringed sagebrush

Hood’s phlox, or spiny phlox

Hooker’s sandwort

Maiden blue-eyed Mary

This story ran in the March-April issue as "Steppe by Steppe."