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Columbian sharp-tailed grouse

Columbian sharp-tailed grouse (Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife)

Scientific name: Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus

Status: Species of Concern 

Listing: The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse was petitioned for listing in 1999. A 90-day finding, in 2006, concluded that a listing was not warranted.

  • Description and Life History

    The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse is one of seven recognized subspecies of sharp-tailed grouse that have been described in North America.  Columbian sharp-tailed grouse are brownish-gray with many small buff and black markings, a white belly, and a long, mostly white, wedge-shaped tail.  Compared to the other subspecies, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse are the smallest and have darker gray plumage, more pronounced spotting on the throat, and narrower markings on the underside.

    Sharp-tailed grouse males display in the spring to attract females to dancing grounds called leks.  Established leks may be used for many years, although their locations may shift over time.  After breeding, females build nests under shrubs or grasses, incubating eggs for 21 to 24 days; re-nesting has been documented on several occasions in sharp-tailed grouse.  After hatching, chicks eat mostly insects and remain with their mothers in broods for 6 to 8 weeks.  Their average life-span is about three years.

    Spring-to-fall home range sizes of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse are relatively small and the areas used are usually within a short distance of a lek.  Columbian sharp-tailed grouse remain in shrub-steppe habitats until the onset of snow, when they form small flocks and move to either riparian or mountain shrub communities where vegetation remains above the snow line. Seasonal movements to wintering areas from breeding grounds are typically less than three miles.  


    Columbian sharp-tailed grouse rely on a variety of good quality habitats within sagebrush-bunchgrass, meadow-steppe, mountain shrub, and riparian zones.  Various upland habitats, with a component of denser riparian or mountain shrub habitat to provide escape cover, are important to the subspecies from spring to fall.  The availability of suitable wintering habitat, containing a dominant component of deciduous trees and shrubs, is also thought to be a key element to healthy Columbian sharp-tailed grouse populations.

    Reasons for Decline

    Excessive hunting in the mid- to late-19th century is thought to be a major contributing factor to the early extirpation of local populations and the initial reduction of the subspecies' range.  Since the turn of the 20th century, the conversion of native habitats to crop production and habitat degradation as a result of livestock grazing are thought to be the primary factors in population declines and range reduction (Buss and Dziedzic 1955; McDonald and Reese 1998).  Factors such as drought, fire, and inclement weather may also significantly affect the population in Oregon due to the small population size.


    Historically, the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse range extended westward from the continental divide in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado to northeastern California and eastern Oregon and Washington; southward to northern Nevada and central Utah; and northward through central British Columbia.  The species was gone from Wallowa county by the late 1940s, and the last Columbian sharp-tails in Oregon probably occurred in Baker county, Oregon.  Columbian sharp-tailed grouse were extirpated from Oregon in the 1960s.  Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in Oregon currently only occupy a small portion of available habitat in Wallowa county outside of Enterprise, Oregon. 

    Conservation Measures

    Most of the habitat areas in Oregon that are currently or may potentially be used by Columbian sharp-tailed grouse occur on privately-owned lands. Some large portions of these privately-owned lands have been withdrawn from crop production and planted to native and non-native cover under the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), established in 1985.  A portion of Wallowa county that currently supports a reintroduced population of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse has been designated a Conservation Priority Area by the NRCS under the CRP program in order to benefit the species (Coggins and Matthews 2000).

    A total of 317 grouse from southeastern Idaho and northeastern Utah have been released in Wallowa County, Oregon, since 1991.  Grouse moved from the initial release site at Clear Lake Ridge to the Leap Area north of Enterprise, Oregon.  Therefore, subsequent releases have been made at the Leap Area.  The Leap Area has been used by the sharp-tailed grouse from 1991 through the present.  The grouse have established leks at the Leap Area and at least two leks have been active for more than 11 years.  Lek counts and summer flush surveys since the initial release indicate a small, persisting population of grouse is present in Wallowa county.  These counts also indicate fluctuations in grouse numbers since their reintroduction in 1991.  More reintroductions are planned for spring 2008. (ODFW 2008)

    References and Links

    Buss, I.O. and E.S. Dziedzic. 1955. Relation of Cultivation to the Disappearance of the Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse from Southeastern Washington. Condor. 57:185-187.

    Coggins, V. and P. Matthews. 2000. Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Project, Wallowa County. Unpublished Progress Report, January 20, 2000. 3 pp.

    McDonald, M.W. and K.P. Reese. 1998. Landscape Changes Within the Historical Distribution of Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse in Eastern Washington: Is There Hope? Northwest Science 72:34-41.

    Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2008. Upland Game Birds - Re-introducing Columbia sharp-tailed grouse

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2006. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-day Finding on a Petition to List the Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse as Threatened. FR 71(224): 67318-67325


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