Bird GuidePheasants and GrouseGunnison Sage-Grouse

At a Glance

A rare and localized bird, found in southwestern Colorado and a small part of adjacent Utah. Remarkably, this bird was not recognized as a separate species from the Greater Sage-Grouse until the year 2000. The two species are very similar, but this one is smaller, and males have a more strongly banded pattern on the tail feathers.
Upland Ground Birds
Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Rocky Mountains, Southwest
Flushes, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Mainly a permanent resident, but may perform some limited local movements.


Male 22" (56cm) Female 18 (46cm). Smaller than Greater Sage-Grouse. Male has more obvious pale bars on tail feathers, longer tuft on back of head. Best identified by range (the two sage-grouse species do not overlap).
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Gray, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Fingered, Rounded
Tail Shape
Long, Multi-pointed, Pointed, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Displaying male gives 9 or 10 hooting gobbles on one low pitch, interspersed with 3 wing noises; very different from display of Greater Sage-Grouse.
Call Pattern
Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Drum, Hoot, Odd, Whistle


Sagebrush plains. Found on open plains and high valleys, but only in vicinity of sagebrush. Prime nesting habitat includes some lower wet areas where young can forage for insects.



Usually 7-9, sometimes 6-13. Olive-buff, evenly dotted with brown. Incubation is by female only, 25-27 days.


Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching. Young are tended by female, but feed themselves. Able to make short flights at age of 1-2 weeks, but do not reach adult size until much later.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on ground, browsing leaves and other plant parts, or picking up items from ground.


Mostly sage leaves and buds, also insects. Diet in fall and winter may be almost entirely the leaves and fresh shoots of sagebrush. At other seasons, also eats leaves, flowers, and buds of a wide variety of plants; also some insects in summer (young eat many insects at first). Unlike most grouse, digestive system is not adapted for digesting hard seeds.


Traditional display grounds may be used for years. In courtship display, male puffs out white chest, inflates two yellow air sacs, raises and spreads tail, and raises tuft of plumes on back of head; head is thrown back as air sacs are deflated with low popping sound. Females visit display ground to mate with one of the males. Oldest and most experienced males compete for positions at center of display ground, and these males are usually chosen by females. Nest site is on ground, under sagebrush or clump of grass. Nest (built by female) is shallow depression, sparsely lined with plant material.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Has disappeared from about 90 percent of its former range, owing to loss and degradation of habitat. Current population is in the low thousands and probably still declining.