Sharp-Tailed Grouse

We’re helping to recover the rarest subspecies of sharp-tailed grouse.

Male sharp-tailed grouse in a mating display. Photo: USFWS

As of 2018, sharp-tailed grouse are classified as Endangered in Washington state. The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, which reside in the Western United States and British Columbia, are the rarest subspecies of “sharp-tails”.

Known for their extravagant mating rituals, these birds are the smaller cousins of the greater sage-grouse, and rely on a variety of healthy, intact shrub-steppe habitat. The sharp-tailed grouse is one focus species in our Sagelands Heritage Program, where we’re working to restore vital sagebrush landscapes and improve overall habitat connectivity.

News on sharp-tailed grouse

Washington’s sharp-tailed grouse

Sharp-tailed grouse were once abundant in Eastern Washington, but faced a rapid decline due to agricultural changes and reduction in lands protected under the federal Conservation Reserve Program. Today, their habitat is fragmented, and there are fewer than 1,000 sharp-tailed grouse in Washington state, occupying less than five percent of their historic range.

There are seven sharp-tailed grouse populations dispersed throughout Lincoln, Douglas, and Okanogan counties, and the Colville Indian Reservation. These birds rely on shrub-steppe habitat and riparian areas in Central Washington with deciduous trees and shrubs with cover, berries, seeds, buds and catkins, which provide critical winter habitat. They’re a sign of habitat health, with benefits for a variety of other species.

Sharp-tailed grouse in the Okanogan Valley also lost significant habitat from large wildfires in 2015 and 2016. The Tunk Valley in particular, an important landscape in our Sagelands Heritage Program, is vital habitat for sharp-tailed grouse, mule deer and other species, as it connects the Okanogan Valley with the Okanogan Highlands to the east and the Kettle River Mountain Range beyond.

In May 2018, Conservation Northwest staff helped WDFW release sharp-tailed grouse. Photo: WDFW

Our work for sharp-tailed grouse

Through our Sagelands Heritage Program, we’re working to maintain, restore and connect shrub-steppe landscapes from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to south-central Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills, an area covering important sharp-tailed grouse habitat.

Fences are a dangerous barrier for sharp-tailed grouse, sometimes fatal. By removing unnecessary fences in Central Washington, we’re improving their habitat and minimizing threats to their recovery. Additionally, attaching markers to existing fences can make them more visible, and therefore reduce incidents with sharp-tailed grouse and other low-flying birds.

In 2018, we assisted the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and others release sharp-tailed grouse from the Cariboo region of south-central British Columbia, into the Tunk Valley, a key habitat corridor connecting north-central Washington’s Okanogan Valley.

Sharp-tailed grouse facts

  • Like the greater sage-grouse, sharp-tailed grouse engage in elaborate courtship rituals. Male sharp-tailed grouse gather on dancing grounds, called leks, where they spread their wings and quickly tap their feet to attract female mates.
  • Sharp-tailed grouse have cultural significance for indigenous communities of Eastern Washington. They are central to many legends, and inspired the traditional ‘chicken dances’ at annual powwows.
  • The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse is the rarest subspecies of sharp-tailed grouse.
  • Sharp-tailed grouses’ diet mostly consists of buds, leaves, green shoots, flowers, seeds, berries, waste grains and insects.