North America’s most endangered birds Top 10: 4 The Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Text by Audubon.

Introduction

The Gunnison Sage-Grouse, a chicken-sized ground bird, depends on sagebrush habitat for cover throughout the year and feeds exclusively on sagebrush during the winter. During the spring, summer, and fall, the grouse also browses on other plants and insects. Once native to New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, Gunnison Sage-Grouse populations have declined precipitously as sagebrush habitat has been lost and degraded due to development, extraction activities, and agriculture. Today the birds are limited to seven populations in isolated areas of southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah.


Threats

The Gunnison Sage-Grouse’s limited population and small range have left it extremely vulnerable to threats such as drought and outbreaks of disease. A range of human activities – including development, road-building, oil and gas activities, increased recreational activities, and poorly managed grazing – continue to encroach on habitat. In addition, the quality of remaining habitat is deteriorating due to livestock grazing, land treatments, increased elk and deer populations, and herbicide use. The Gunnison Sage- Grouse’s limited population and small range have left it extremely vulnerable to threats such as drought and outbreaks of disease. A range of human activities – including development, road-building, oil and gas activities, increased recreational activities, and poorly managed grazing – continue to encroach on habitat. In addition, the quality of remaining habitat is deteriorating due to livestock grazing, land treatments, increased elk and deer populations, and herbicide use.

Population and Trends

Gunnison Sage-Grouse population estimates range from 2,000 to 6,000 during the spring breeding season, with only one population – in the Gunnison Basin of Colorado – estimated to have more than 500 breeding birds. The Colorado Department of Natural Resources currently estimates the total population at 3,500. Unless effective conservation measures are undertaken, the numbers of grouse are likely to continue to shrink.

Conservation

The Gunnison Sage-Grouse is not yet listed as an endangered species, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the listing of the bird under consideration. Effective conservation will entail preserving and restoring sagebrush habitat, moderating grazing, limiting disturbance from recreational activities and oil and gas extraction, and ensuring that development is planned with an eye to conserving critical grouse habitat. Audubon supports listing of this species under the Endangered Species Act.


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