Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Gunnison Sage-grouse

Lisa Lynch/NPS

The Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) is a newly named species native to the Gunnison Basin and surrounding areas, recognized by the American Ornithological Union in 2000. It was formerly known as the Northern sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), which is spread throughout the western United States. The Gunnison sage-grouse is about 2/3 the size of the Northern sage-grouse, has a different coloration and a distinct mating ritual. Since the 1970's, researchers have been aware of the differences between the two birds. DNA testing and other studies by researchers from the University of Denver, Western State College and the Colorado Division of Wildlife have contributed to the new species status of the Gunnison sage-grouse.

The Gunnison sage-grouse was once native to Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. It is estimated that only 4000-5000 birds remain in isolated populations throughout southeast Utah and southwest Colorado today. The sage-grouse in the Gunnison Basin, including those in and around Curecanti National Recreation Area, account for the majority of these birds. Counts of the birds indicate a decline in the species within the Gunnison Basin of more than 60% since the 1950's.

Habitat loss and habitat degradation are probably the biggest threats to the population of Gunnison sage-grouse. Land conversion, development, roads and intensive grazing have isolated the birds from one another. Isolated populations of birds decreases genetic diversity, increases the negative effects of inbreeding and may make the birds less able to adapt to their rapidly changing environment.

What is being done?
In 1995, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse Working Group was formed to develop a conservation plan to encourage and assist survival efforts for the sage-grouse. This group, with representatives from government agencies, environmental groups, ranchers, biologists, and concerned citizens, is committed to improving habitat and minimizing future impacts to sage-grouse.

The National Park Service is dedicated to the conservation of the Gunnison sage-grouse by focusing special attention on the birds. For example, several visitor use areas near sage-grouse leks, or mating grounds, are closed during mating seasons. In addition, Biological Science Technicians are conducting studies, including trapping the birds on their breeding grounds and fitting them with small radio transmitters. Marked birds are tracked over a period of time to identify preferred habitat types. Geographical Information System (GIS) technology is used with the radio-telemetry data and vegetation inventories to identify existing or potential habitat, sage-grouse movements, seasonal habitat requirements, reproductive success and causes of mortality. Ultimately, researchers hope to connect existing isolated populations of the sage-grouse. Linking remaining populations of birds together will help increase genetic variation and hopefully, the number of birds as well.

What can you do?
While visiting Curecanti National Recreation Area, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the Gunnison Country, there are simple things that each of us can do to show our concern for the sage-grouse.

  • Pets must be leashed and kept away from the birds as well as other wildlife.
  • Respect area closures for leks in the parks during grouse mating season.
  • Watch birds quietly from vehicles at a distance during the spring mating season only at designated watchable wildlife areas.
  • Hike and camp with care in grouse habitat (or sagebrush dominated areas) so as not to disturb or injure the birds.
  • Spread the word about the Gunnison sage-grouse. Everyone's awareness is important!

Additional Resources

Western State College - The Gunnison Sage-Grouse
Sisk-a-dee Gunnison Sage-Grouse Conservation

Last updated: February 17, 2017

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102 Elk Creek
Gunnison, CO 81230


(970) 641-2337 x205

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