The plains sharp-tailed grouse is a bird of Colorado’s eastern grasslands. Sharp-tailed grouse closely resemble prairie chickens except that sharp-tails have a pointed tail, and the air sacs on the neck of the male are purple. Birds are 15 to 20 inches in length.
Range: They are resident from Alaska east to Hudson Bay and south to Utah, northeastern New Mexico and Michigan. In Colorado, plains sharp-tailed grouse formerly nested over much of the northern two-thirds of the eastern prairie, but the present population consists of only a few hundred birds in Douglas County.
Habitat: The plains sharp-tailed grouse use rolling hills with scrub oak thickets and grassy glades. As an equivalent to sagebrush, they use scrub oaks, serviceberries and willows. These brushy sites provide critical winter shelter and food sources. Typically, the plains grouse occupies medium to tall grasslands for courtship and nesting.
Diet: Diets include a variety of forbs, grasses and insects. In winter, sharp-tailed grouse also feed on buds and catkins of deciduous trees or shrubs and berries. Birds are also known to feed on the buds of aspen and willow.
Reproduction: During the breeding season in March to June, sharp-tailed males congregate on specific areas known as dancing grounds in the early morning to impress nearby female grouse. The male performs a dance in which the wings are extended, the tail is raised vertically, the head is lowered and the entire body is horizontal to the ground. The bird’s feet move rapidly and the tail feathers make a clicking noise. As an invitation to the females, the sharp-tailed mail cackles loudly and jumps three to four feet in the air rapidly beating its wings. This display is called the "flutter-jump."
Females lay typically 10 to 13 buff-brown eggs in a grass-lined depression in tall grass or brush.
Endangered status: The plains sharp-tailed grouse is listed as endangered in Colorado. The bird formerly nested over much of the northern two-thirds of the eastern prairie, but the present population consists of only a few hundred birds in Douglas County. The decline is the result of overgrazing and the conversion of grassland to cropland and, more recently, to housing developments. What remains of Colorado’s population is now severely threatened by proposed land developments in the area between Denver and Colorado Springs.
For more information, see the Natural Diversity Information Source species profile.