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Sharp-tailed Grouse
Tympanuchus phasianellus
– Family
Authors: Connelly, J. W., M. W. Gratson, and K. P. Reese

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Sharp-tailed Grouse, male, June 2001
Figure 1. Distribution of the Sharp-tailed Grouse.

The Sharp-tailed Grouse is one of four species of North American grouse that inhabit a broad range of plant communities dominated by grasses and shrubs where males engage in communal breeding displays. Historically this species was found in steppe, grassland, and mixed-shrub habitats throughout much of central and northern North America. Although it still ranges from the Great Lake states west to Alaska and south to Colorado, its numbers have declined greatly in the southern and eastern portions of its historical range, and many populations now depend on cropland to varying degrees. In all habitats, this species consumes a variety of forbs, fruits, grains, buds, and insects.

Sharp-tailed Grouse were an important source of food for Native Americans and early settlers to the Great Plains and the western United States and Canada, and the species continues to be hunted extensively in much of its range. This species elaborate courtship displays are mimicked in dances by Native Americans. Even today, these displays remain popular attractions for people interested in wildlife.

Most of our knowledge of the Sharp-tailed Grouse comes from populations in the United States and southern Canada. Little is known about this species in more northern portions of its range. Because of extensive habitat changes, most southern populations now occupy smaller portions of their historical range, and many populations may still be declining. Exceptions are populations associated with agricultural lands in the United States that were planted with grasses and forbs under the government-sponsored Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The CRP provided thousands of hectares of nesting and brood-rearing habitat, resulting in increased populations during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Northern populations are likely secure for the foreseeable future because these areas are remote and relatively inaccessible.

The breeding behaviors, feeding habits, population trends, and habitat relationships of this species are well known for populations in southern Canada and the United States (Hamerstrom and Hamerstrom 1951, Ammann 1963, Kobriger 1965, Hillman and Jackson 1973, Giesen 1987, Gratson 1988, 1989a). Little information is available for populations in northern Canada and Alaska, however.