Greater Sage-Grouse

Nicole DollEducation

The threatened Greater Sage Grouse displaying its air sacs.
  • Scientific nameCentrocercus urophasianus urophasianus 
  • SARA Status: Endangered
  • COSEWIC Status: Endangered 
  • COSEWIC Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan

Occupying only 7% of their former range and experiencing major reductions in population, the Greater Sage-Grouse represents one of the most endangered species in Canada.  

The threatened Greater Sage Grouse displaying its air sacs.
The endangered Greater Sage-Grouse displaying its air sacs. Photo by Kerry Hargrove courtesy of Battlefords Now.

The Greater Sage-Grouse is the largest grouse species in North America, occupying southern prairies of Alberta and Saskatchewan where sagebrush grows. Sagebrush is critical to species survival, as it makes up a large portion of their diet and provides them with cover. 

The species is facing a number of threats that jeopardize their chance of survival, which has rendered them endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). It is estimated that only 200 remain in Canada’s wild.  

Sage-grouse remain fairly inconspicuous most of the year, but during the early spring, the males partake in an elaborate mating display. Males begin their display when the snow clears in communal areas called leks, which are open spaces where male and female grouse aggregate. During these leks, males perform a “strutting display”, which involves:  

  • A series of forwards struts 
  • Swishing of their wings                            
  • Fanning out their tail  
  • Erecting their head plumes  
  • Making unique noises consisting of popping and whistling sounds by expanding their throat sac  

This is to impress females and also to defend territory from other males. These fascinating leks capture the attention of researchers from all parts of the world. 

Threats: The Greater-Sage Grouse have very specific requirements in regards to diet and reproduction, and thus, are extremely sensitive to changes. The leading cause of their decline, like many other species, is habitat alteration and degradation. The habitat degradation is due in part to agriculture conversion, oil and gas development near leks, and drainage and irrigation projects. 

Since their population has diminished so much, they are much more vulnerable to climatic and chance events. Drought for instance, is one of the biggest threats to the grouse, and is expected to only increase in frequency due to climate change. Diseases, such as West Nile Virus, also pose a large threat to the small population, further impacting the likelihood of survival of the species.  

What’s being done: Greater-Sage grouse are protected federally under SARA, which involves ongoing monitoring and assessment of habitat, management, and protection. The species is also protected and designated as endangered under Alberta’s Wildlife Act and Saskatchewan’s Wildlife Act, as well as  Canada National Parks Act, meaning, it is prohibited to harm or destroy the species, or occupied nesting sites.

There have also been recent reintroduction programs in partnership with the Calgary Zoo and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, however, it is too early to determine the success of the reintroduction. Completion of conservation plans has also been an important part of the process, involving both federal and provincial governments, as well as other environmental organizations.   


Canada Environment and Climate Change: Greater Sage Grouse 

Greater Sage-Grouse Identification