: There are two species of sage grouse in Colorado. We have both the Greater sage grouse and the Gunnison sage grouse.
Greater sage-grouse are the largest grouse in North America. Males often weigh in excess of 4-5 pounds and hens weigh in at 2-3 pounds.
On the ground and in flight they appear almost black, and their long pointed tail is approximately half the length of their body. Both sexes have narrow, pointed tail feathers, feathering to the base of the toes, and a variegated pattern of grayish brown, buff and black on the upper parts, with paler flanks and a diffuse black pattern on the abdomen.
Adult males have blackish-brown throat feathers which are separated by a narrow band of white from a dark V-shaped pattern on the neck. White breast feathers conceal 2 large, skin sacs (used in courtship displays) which are yellow-green in color. Males also have yellow eyecombs (obvious in the spring during courtship displays).
Female sage grouse lack the specialized structures used for courtship displays but generally resemble males in coloration. However, in comparison to males, their throats are buffy with blackish markings and the lower throat and breast are barred which presents a blackish-brown appearance. Immature birds (less than 1 yr. of age) can be distinguished from adults by their light yellowish green toes (adults have dark green toes).
Range: The largest populations of sage grouse open to hunting are found in North Park (Jackson County), Grand County, and Moffat County. See page 6 of the Small Game Brochure for current Greater sage grouse hunting details.
Habitat/Reproduction/Diet: Sage grouse, as the name implies, are found only in areas where sagebrush is abundant. Sagebrush is a critical component for sage grouse providing both food and cover. Although these birds are found at altitudes of 6000-8500 feet, they are not forest grouse and prefer relatively open sagebrush flats or rolling sagebrush hills.
Winter: In winter, sagebrush accounts for 100% of the diet for these birds. In addition, it provides important escape cover and protection from the elements.
Spring/Summer: In late winter, males begin to concentrate on traditional strutting grounds or leks. Females arrive at the leks 1-2 weeks later. Leks can occur on a variety of land types or formations (windswept ridges, knolls, areas of flat sagebrush, flat bare openings in the sagebrush. Breeding occurs on the leks and in the adjacent sagebrush, typically from March through May. Males strut in a complex and ritualistic breeding display. Successfully bred females nest in the sagebrush laying a clutch of 7-9 eggs. After a period of approximately 26 days the chicks hatch. Chicks are dependent on insects and forbs (broad-leaved herbaceous plants, e.g. clover) for their food. The hen moves her brood to relatively moist areas (usually the bottoms of sagebrush draws, sage/willow areas, hay meadows, or river bottoms) in close proximity to the sagebrush. Broods are thought to disband at 10-12 weeks when the chicks have moulted into their juvenile plumage. Males tend to remain segregated from the broods but are typically found within 2-3 miles of the strutting grounds.
Fall: Females and their chicks remain largely dependent on forbs and insects for food well into early fall. Cultivated herbaceous broad-leaved plants (alfalfa, clover) are important early fall food sources when available.
As winter approaches, these food sources become unavailable. Throughout the autumn months, sage grouse become increasingly dependent on sagebrush for nutrients. During the winter months, they are once again subsisting solely on sagebrush.
Check to make sure you are in an area where sage grouse can legally be hunted. Many areas of the state are closed to sage grouse hunting
. See page 6 of the Small Game Brochure
for current Greater sage grouse hunting details.
Note: There are two species of sage grouse in Colorado, the Greater and the Gunnison. The Colorado Wildlife Commission eliminated hunting in areas occupied by Gunnison Sage-grouse in 2000.
To successfully hunt greater sage-grouse, you must be in an area with sagebrush. Sage grouse are not found in wooded areas.
Similar to other grouse species, sage grouse will be found in proximity to their food and water and near adequate cover.
During the hunting season, sage grouse are often found near springs or wet meadows adjacent to sagebrush. They are usually found in groups comprised of a hen and her brood or a group of males. Some of these groups can be quite large.
Sage grouse will drink twice or more each day if water is available. Hunters are often successful working sagebrush draws leading from stock ponds or small reservoirs in the sagebrush.
In wet years, sage grouse may be widely distributed across sagebrush areas. In dry years, hens and broods will be concentrated in traditional brood rearing habitat.
Once you’ve located an area you think may hold promise, look for feathers and droppings.
Sage grouse will hold for a pointing dog in heavier cover (also true for other grouse).
What to look for in flight: Sage grouse appear cumbersome when taking flight, but once in the air fly quickly. In flight they alternate wing flapping with gliding and usually alight within a 2 mile of being flushed. Males fly with the head held horizontally and females tend to dip their bodies from side to side. On the ground and in flight they appear almost black, and their long pointed tail is approximately half the length of their body. When in flight, the white under wing feathers contrast sharply with the blackish abdomen.
Season: Please refer to the Small Game Season dates page.