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Montana Field Guides

Greater Sage-Grouse - Centrocercus urophasianus

Species of Concern

Global Rank: G3G4
State Rank: S2

Agency Status
PIF: 1


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Copyright by: The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, all rights reserved.
General Description
The Greater Sage-Grouse is North America's largest grouse.

For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Both sexes have relatively long, pointed tails, feathered legs, and mottled gray-brown, buff, and black plumage. Males have a blackish-brown throat patch and an inconspicuous yellow eye comb. Both sexes have blackish bellies which contrast sharply with white under-wing coverts when the birds are in flight. Females appear to dip from side to side while flying. Adult males range from 26 to 30 inches in length and average 4 to 7 pounds in weight; adult females range from 19 to 23 inches in length and 2.5 to 3.5 pounds in weight. A female Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) can possibly be confused with a female or young Greater Sage-Grouse. Female Ring-necked Pheasants, however, have a brown belly and bare legs, while female Greater Sage-Grouse have a black belly patch and feathered legs. They differ from Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) in having a black belly and in lacking white outer tail feathers.

Species Range
Montana Range

Click the legend blocks above to view individual ranges.

Montana Distribution

Western Hemisphere Range


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 14567

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


(direct evidence "B")

(indirect evidence "b")

No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")

(regular observations "W")

(at least one obs. "w")


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

The Greater Sage-Grouse makes seasonal movements that can vary greatly depending upon a number of factors including gender, behavior, seasonal habitat quality, and weather (Connelly et al. 1988).

Sagebrush is the preferred habitat. They use 6 to 18 inch high sagebrush covered benches in June to July (average 213 acres); move to alfalfa fields (144 acres) or greasewood bottoms (91 acres) when forbs on the benches dry out; and move back to sagebrush (average 128 acres) in late August to early September (Peterson 1969).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Adults eat mainly sagebrush during late autumn, winter, and early spring. Sagebrush and forbs dominate diet in summer, although some insects are also eaten. Typically forages on the ground. Juveniles eat insects such as grasshoppers and ants during the first three weeks of life, but forbs increase with importance with age (Schroeder et al. 1999).

Lek activity extends from March to May. Mating sites move from year to year; nests are located 0.2 to 6.5 miles from the lek (Harrison 1978).

Reproductive Characteristics
In southwest Montana 34% of hens observed had broods, with the average size being 4.3 (Martin 1965). Courtship starts in early March and persists to nesting in May (Davis 1961). Egg records are probably similar to Wyoming: April 18 to July 27 (Johnsgard 1986).

On September 22 2015, after review of the best available scientific and commercial information, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the Greater Sage-Grouse did not warrant listing protections under the Endangered Species Act at the time because the primary threats to populations had been ameliorated by conservation efforts implemented by Federal, State, and private land owners. Additional information on the species' management can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Species Account

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Connelly, J. W., H. W. Browers, and R. J. Gates. 1988. Seasonal movements of sage grouse in southeastern Idaho. Journal of Wildlife Management 52:116-122.
    • Davis, C.V. 1961. A distributional study of the birds of Montana. Ph.D. dissertation. Oregon State University, Corvallis. 462 pp.
    • Harrison, C. 1978. A field guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American birds. Collins, Cleveland.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1986. Birds of the Rocky Mountains: with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Colorado Associated University Press, Boulder, CO.
    • Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages.
    • Martin, N. S. 1965. Effects of chemical control of sagebrush on the occurrence of sage grouse in southwestern Montana. M.S. thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 38 pp.
    • Peterson, J. G. 1969. The food habits and summer distribution of juvenile sage grouse in central Montana. M.S. thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 39 pp.
    • Schroeder, M.A., J.R. Young, and C.E. Braun. 1999. Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). Species Account Number 425. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p.
    • Anonymous. 1959. Sage grouse. Montana Wildlife. November.
    • Anonymous. 1963. Sheep Creek sage grouse. Montana Wildlife. August:20-22.
    • Bechard, Mark. 1986. Early Montana naturalists and oologists. Blue Jay. 44(1):20-30.
    • Berry, J. D. and R. L. Eng. 1985. Interseasonal movements and fidelity to seasonal use areas by female sage grouse. J. Wildl. Manage. 49(1):237-240.
    • Bramblett, Robert G., and Alexander V. Zale. 2002. Montana Prairie Riparian Native Species Report. Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit, Montana State University - Bozeman.
    • Braun, C. E., Oedekoven, O. O., Aldridge, C. L. . 2002. Oil and gas development in western North America: effects on sagebrush steppe avifauna with particular emphasis on sage grouse. Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference 67 :337-349.
    • Braun, C. E., T. Britt, and R. O. Wallestad. 1977. Guidelines for maintenance of sage grouse habitat. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 5:99-106.
    • Braun, C.E. 1995. Distribution and status of Sage Grouse in Colorado. Prairie Nat. 27(1): 1-8.
    • Casey, D. 2000. Partners in Flight Draft Bird Conservation Plan Montana. Version 1.0. 287 pp.
    • Connelly, J. W., M. A. Schroeder, A. R. Sands, and C. E. Braun. 2000. Guidelines to manage Sage-Grouse populations and their habitats. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 28: 967-985.
    • Dalke, P. D., D. B. Pyrah, D. C. Stanton, J. E. Crawford, and E. F. Schlatterer. 1963. Ecology, productivity, and management of sage grouse in Idaho. J. Wildl. Manage. 27:811-841.
    • Decker Coal Company., 1978, 1978 Sage Grouse Report. In Decker Coal Company West Pit Permit. Vol. 3. 26.4.304(10-11), 305, 306, and 307. Updated Rules Rewrite, July 1, 1991.
    • Decker Coal Company., 1992, Decker Coal Company East Pit Permit. Vol. 7. Section 9 - Wildlife. Section 10 - AVF and Prime Farmland. July 1992.
    • Dood, A.R. 1980. Terry Badlands nongame survey and inventory final report. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and Bureau of Land Management, Helena, MT. 70 pp.
    • Ecological Consulting Service (ECON), Helena, MT., 1972, Wildlife Investigations: 10 x 20 Mile Area, Colstrip, Montana. Project 9--01--A. Annual Report to Montana Power Company and Western Energy Company; December 1972 - December 1973. December 21, 1973.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1975, Colstrip 10 x 20 Area wildlife and wildlife habitat annual monitoring report, 1975. Proj. 71-23-A. December 31, 1975.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1976, Colstrip 10 x 20 Area wildlife and wildlife habitat annual monitoring report, 1976. Proj. 135-85-A. December 31, 1976.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1977, Colstrip 10 x 20 Area wildlife and wildlife habitat annual monitoring report, 1977. Proj. 164-85-A. December 31, 1977.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1979, Annual wildllife report of the Colstrip Area for 1978. Proj. 195-85-A. April 6, 1979.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1979, Annual wildllife report of the Colstrip Area for 1979, including a special raptor research study. Proj. 216-85-A. March 1, 1980.
    • Econ, Inc., Helena, MT., 1978, Peabody Coal Company Big Sky Mine, Rosebud County, MT. Wildlife and wildlife habitat monitoring study. Proj. 190-85-A. December 31, 1978.
    • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
    • Eng, R. 1969. For survival...sage grouse need sagebrush now. Montana State University, College of Agr., Bozeman. 5(3):2.
    • Eng, R. L. 1952. Sage grouse population trends and breeding potential. Montana Fish and Game Department. P-R Quarterly Reports, 3(1):61-64, 3(2): 100-103, 3(3):44-49, 3(4):56-62,4(4):31-33,5(1):19-27,5(1):28-35.
    • Eng, R. L. 1953. The sage grouse season. Montana Wildlife. Winter.
    • Eng, R. L. 1954-55. Use of aerial coverage in sage grouse strutting ground counts. Proc. W. Assn. St. Game & Fish Comm. 34:231-233. 2 copies
    • Eng, R. L. 1955. A method for obtaining Sage Grouse age and sex ratios from wings. J. Wildl. Manage. 19(2):267-272.
    • Eng, R. L. 1959-1964. Factors affecting, sage grouse production. Montana Fish and Game Department. Job Compl. Rep. Proj. W-91-R-l through 6, Job II-A.
    • Eng, R. L. 1961. Sage grouse - spring strutting activity. Nat. 2(2): 15-20.
    • Eng, R. L. 1963. Western states sage grouse questionnaire. Montana Fish and Game Department. VIII. 15 pp.
    • Eng, R. L. 1971. Two hybrid sage grouse X sharp-tailed grouse from central Montana. Condor 73:491-493.
    • Eng, R. L.  1956.  Sage Grouse production and movement study. Montana Fish and Game Department Job Completion Report, Project W-74-R-1, Helena.
    • Eng, R. L.  1963.  Observations on the breeding biology of male Sage Grouse. Journal of Wildlife Management 27:841-846.
    • Eng, R. L., and P. Schladweiler.  1972.  Sage Grouse winter movements and habitat use in central Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management 36:141-146.
    • Eng, R. L., E. J. Pitcher, S. J. Scott, and R. J. Greene. 1979. Minimizing the effect of surface coal mining on a sage grouse population by a directed shift of breeding activities. Pp. 464-468 in The Mitagation Symposium. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mt. Forest and Range Exp. Sta., Fort Collins, Colorado.
    • Fjell, Alan K., and Brian R. Mahan., 1985, Peabody Coal Company Big Sky Mine, Rosebud County, MT. Wildlife monitoring report: 1984 field season. February 1985.
    • Graham, Dean, and Craig Swick., 1977, A Field evaluation of the cyclone seeder for reducing Richardson ground squirrel populations causing damage in central Montana . August 1977.
    • Hartzler, J. E. 1972. An analysis of sage grouse lek behavior. Ph.D dissertation. University of Montana, Missoula. 234 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
    • Kantrud, H. A., and R. L. Kologiski. 1982. Effects of soils and grazing on breeding birds of uncultivated upland grasslands in the northern Great Plains. Wildlife Research Report No. 15, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.
    • Klott, J. H., and F. G. Lindzey. 1990. Brood habitats of sympatric sage grouse and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in Wyoming. J. Wildl. Manage. 54:84-88.
    • Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar’s Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp.
    • Martin, N. S. 1970. Sagebrush control related to habitat and Sage Grouse occurrence. Journal of Wildlife Management 34:313-320.
    • Matthews, W.L. 1980a. Wibaux-Beach comparison study: Sydney, Glendive and Plevna Study Areas. Bureau of Land Management, Miles City, MT. 50 p.
    • Matthews, W.L. 1981. Broadus-Pumpkin Creek baseline inventory - wildlife. Bureau of Land Management, Miles City, MT. 83 p.
    • Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
    • Montana Dept. of State Lands, 1978, Preliminary environmental review for the proposed granting of an underground mining permit to Beartooth Coal Company, Incorporated, for the reopening of an underground coal mine in the area of Bearcreek, Carbon County, Montana. July 10, 1978.
    • Montana Greater Sage-Grouse Working Group. 2000. Management plan and covservation strategies for Greater Sage-Grouse in Montana.
    • Montana State Dept. of Health and Env. Sciences., 1975, Proceedings: Seminar, Advancements in Pesticides, Helena, MT, Sept. 16-18, 1975.
    • Munshower, Frank F., 1974, Animal tissue collections and bone fluoride concentrations at Colstrip, MT. 1973. Collecting Report, 1973. January 1974.
    • Peterson, J. G. 1970. The food habits and summer distribution of juvenile Sage Grouse in central Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management 34:147-155.
    • Powder River Eagle Studies, Inc., Gillette, WY., 1999, Spring Creek Mine 1998 Wildlife Monitoring. March 1999.
    • Pyrah, D. 1969. A review of habitat selection and food habits studies of sage grouse in Montana. Presented at 6th Bi. Sage Grouse Workshop, Rock Springs, WY.
    • Pyrah, D. 1971. Sage grouse habitat research in central Montana. Proc. Western Assoc. of Game and Fish Comm., Aspen, Colorado. 51:293-300.
    • Pyrah, D., and R. Wallestad. 1974. Movement and nesting of sage grouse hens in Central Montana. J. Wildl. Manage. 38:630-633.
    • Schladweiler, P. 1969. Breeding season movements and habitat use by male sage grouse. Western Assoc. State Game and Fish Comm., Jackson Hole, Wyo. 49:317-322.
    • Schladweiler, Philip, and John P. Weigand., 1983, Relationships of endrin and other chlorinated hydrocarbon compounds to wildlife in Montana, 1981-1982. September 1983.
    • Schneegast E. R. 1967. Sage grouse and sagebrush control. Trans. No. Am. Wildl. Conf. 32:270-274.
    • Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
    • Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69.
    • Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
    • Thorvilson R. C. 1969. An appraisal of endocrine activity in strutting sage grouse. M.S. thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman. 15 pp.
    • Thorvilson, R. C. 1970. An appraisal of endocrine activity in strutting sage grouse. NW Sec., The Wildlife Soc. 15 pp.
    • Thunderbird Wildlife Consulting, Inc., Gillette, WY., 2003, Spring Creek Mine 2002 Wildlife Monitoring. March 2003.
    • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service., 1984, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Montana: Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
    • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service., 1985, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Montana: Final Environmental Impact Statement.
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1980. Management of Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Draft. Reprint
    • U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
    • Walcheck, K. C. 1999. The Lewis and Clark Expedition: Montana’s first bird inventory through the eyes of Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark Interpretive Association, Great Falls, Montana.
    • Wallestad, R. [O.] 1975. Life history and habitat requirements of Sage Grouse in central Montana. Montana Department of Fish and Game, Helena. 65 pp.
    • Wallestad, R. 1971. A review of current sage grouse research in Montana. 7th Biennial Sage Grouse Workshopt Salt Lake City, Utah. 11 pp.
    • Wallestad, R. and D. Pyrah. 1974. Movements and nesting of sage grouse hens in central Montana. J. Wildl. Manage. 38:630-633.
    • Wallestad, R. O. 1971. Summer movements and habitat use by Sage Grouse broods in central Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management 35:129-136.
    • Wallestad, R. O. 1970. Summer movements and habitat use by sage grouse broods in central Montana. M.S. thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 51 pp.
    • Wallestad, R. O. and J. G. Peterson and R. L. Eng. 1975. Foods of adult sage grouse in central Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management 39:628-630.
    • Wallestad, R. O. and P. Schladweiler. 1974. Breeding season movements and habitat use of male sage grouse in central Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management 38:634-637.
    • Western Energy Co., Colstrip, MT. Unpub., 1983, Western Energy Company's Application for Amendment to Surface Mining Permit NO. 8003, Area B: sections 7, 8, 17,18 T1N R41E, sections 12, 13 T1N R40E, Mining Expansion. March 1983.
    • Western Energy Co., Colstrip, MT., 1981, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Report, 1981.
    • Weydemeyer, W., and V. L. Marsh. 1936. The bird life of Lake Bowdoin, Montana. Condor 38:185-198.
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Citation for data on this website:
Greater Sage-Grouse — Centrocercus urophasianus.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on December 5, 2016, from