U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A selective focus, medium-range picture shows three Gunnison sage-grouse walking in snow, backdropped by brownish-red vegetation

Gunnison Sage-grouse

(Centrocercus minimus)

Information icon Three Gunnison sage-grouse photographed in Gunnison county. Creative Commons licensed (CC by 2.0) photo by Larry Lamsa.

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Taxon: Bird

Range: CO and UT

Status: Threatened since 2014


The Gunnison sage-grouse is a species of sage-grouse found south of the Colorado River in Colorado and Utah.

It is currently protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The current rangewide population is estimated at 5,000 birds across the eight population areas. In Colorado, these are the Pinon Mesa, Crawford, San Miguel Basin, Gunnison Basin, Dove Creek, Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Simo Mesa, and Poncha Pass populations. There is also one population center near Monticello, Utah.

As of 2015, the Gunnison Basin population in Colorado contains more than 86% of the total number of birds. The other six satellite populations are much smaller, isolated, and are generally declining or significantly below population objectives. The Gunnison Basin population trend has been stable during the same period.

The most substantial current and future threats to the species are habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation due to human development and associated infrastructure. Other threats include overgrazing, mineral development, piñon juniper encroachment, fences, invasive plants, fire, large scale water development, predation (primarily associated with human disturbance and habitat decline), and recreation. The fragmented nature of the remaining sagebrush habitat amplifies the negative effects of other threats.

While the Gunnison Basin population currently appears to be stable, the Service has determined that the smaller populations in particular are highly vulnerable to extirpation, leaving the entire species vulnerable, and that the threats to the Gunnison Basin population may be higher in the future. Multiple secure populations across a broad geographic area are required for species survival.

A map showing a region along the Utah-Colorado border, with about 10% in Utah and the other 90% in Colorado. The map shows Gunnison sage-grouse occupied habitat, highlighted in blue. The regions in blue extend, in blob-like formations, from eastern Utah to central Colorado, with the majority of the regions along the southern 25% of both states, with a few regions extending further north, about halfway up the states' borders. The biggest area surrounds the town of Gunnison, Colorado
A map showing the occupied range for the Gunnison sage-grouse. By USFWS.

News, Blogs, and Multimedia


Recovering the Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Our goal is to recover this species so that federal protection under the Endangered Species Act is no longer necessary. The numerous effective conservation actions undertaken by Gunnison County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, local citizens, and others is one of the key reasons that the species was listed as threatened rather than endangered.

Species Status Assessment

A species status assessment is an in-depth scientific review of a species’ biology and threats, an evaluation of its biological status, and an assessment of the resources and conditions needed to maintain populations over time in the wild. This document will be updated as new information on the species becomes available. It helps support recovery planning and provides the scientific foundation for any other decisions and documents needed under the Endangered Species Act, such as recovery implementation strategies and 5-year reviews.

Recovery Plan

A recovery plan outlines the objective, measurable criteria that would need to be met in order to recover a species. to A draft recovery plan is in development will be available in October 2019. If you would like more information, contact Allison Vendramel.

Recovery Implementation Strategy

A recovery implementation strategy is a step-down strategy that specifies who will do what actions where and when on the landscape in order to achieve the broader criteria identified in the recovery plan. Local counties, private landowners and other stakeholders in Gunnison sage-grouse habitat have a large role to play in informing the strategy, and we are actively seeking public participation. For more information, contact Allison Vendramel.

Voluntary Conservation Plans and Agreements

With our partners, we are pleased to offer voluntary conservation incentives for private and public landowners who are able to help conserve Gunnison sage-grouse:

A very wide-angle picture shows a hiker in a wide-brim hat sitting, perched on a rock formation, overlooking a vista of the Gunnison Gorge. Cutting through the gorge is a bright blue river, cutting through green and brown sagebrush landscape along some mountains of medium to small height
The Gunnison Sage-Grouse Area of Critical Environmental Concern near the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area provides habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse. Photo by the Bureau of Land Management.

Critical Habitat

In total, approximately 1,429,551 acres are designated as critical habitat in Delta, Dolores, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray, Saguache, and San Miguel Counties in Colorado; and in Grand and San Juan Counties in Utah. The effect of this regulation is to conserve Gunnison sage-grouse habitat under the Act.


Appearance

Gunnison sage-grouse look similar to their cousins, the greater sage-grouse, however they are approximately one-third of the size.

Males have distinct, white barring on their tail feathers and long, dense filoplumes on their necks that look similar to a ponytail. Female Gunnison and greater sage-grouse have nearly the same plumage.

Male Gunnison sage-grouse conduct an elaborate display when trying to attract females on breeding grounds, or leks in the spring. They will strut, flap their wings against their white pouches and utter a distinct series of sounds by vocalizing and popping two air sacs within their pouches. Nesting begins in mid-April and continues into July.


Habitat

Gunnison sage-grouse require large, contiguous areas of sagebrush across the landscape with a diversity of grasses and forbs, as well as healthy wetland and riparian ecosystems where they feed their young in the summer. Like the greater sage-grouse, Gunnisons require sagebrush for cover year-round, and they use it as a food source in fall and winter.

Loss and fragmentation of sagebrush habitats are chief causes of the decline of Gunnison sage-grouse populations.

A small image shows a full-body picture of a Gunnison sage-grouse, backdropped by orange and green colors in a blurred background. The bird has a white neck and brown-grey feathers, with spiky brown and white striped tail feathers
A Gunnison sage-grouse. Photo by the Bureau of Land Management.

Range

The range of Gunnison sage-grouse closely matches the distribution of sagebrush habitats. Historically, this included parts of central and southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah, northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona.

The current range is limited to southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Approximately 940,000 acres of habitat are occupied by the species. Of this, about 54% occurs on federal lands; 43% occurs on private lands; and 3% percent occurs on state lands.

Gunnison sage-grouse currently occupy approximately 7% percent of their potential historic range.


Additional Resources