Greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse are closely related species that live in the Sagebrush Sea, an ecoregion that blankets much of the interior west and supports hundreds of species of at-risk plants and animals.

Sage-grouse need large expanses of healthy sagebrush grasslands and functioning hydrologic systems to survive and flourish. Conserving sage-grouse benefits a host of other species in the Sagebrush Sea, like pronghorn, elk, mule deer, native trout, pygmy rabbit, and nearly 200 migratory and resident bird species.

Both the Gunnison sage-grouse and the greater sage-grouse are trending toward extinction. Currently there are likely 4,000 or less Gunnison sage-grouse left and they are facing a very uncertain future in western Colorado and southeastern Utah where development (energy and residential) and climate change are altering habitat.

While the greater sage-grouse still occur across much of the northern interior west, its populations continue to decline. A recent US Geological Survey study found that the Greater sage-grouse has declined 80% rangewide since 1965 and nearly 40% since 2002 and the downward trend is forecast to continue absent stronger conservation.

More than half of the Sagebrush Sea natural habitats have been lost to development and agriculture. Currently, we continue to lose on average over one million acres of sage-grouse habitat each year to a combination of fires, invasive species, drought, energy development, mining, and roads.

Defenders' Impact

Defenders is working to ensure that federal agencies and western states implement conservation measures to restore these magnificent birds and the Sagebrush Sea ecosystems on which they depend. 

In 2015, the federal government culminated an unprecedented multi-stakeholder planning process to develop a greater sage-grouse conservation strategy covering more than 65 million acres of federal public lands in the West. Defenders heavily engaged in the development of this strategy even as we remained concerned that it might not be adequate to assure recovery. The strategy barely had time to work before the Trump administration weakened it, eliminating key protections. 

Given continued decline of the greater sage-grouse and its habitat - and the clear influence that climate change is having -- the Bureau of Land Management is re-evaluating the (weakened) 2015 conservation strategy and is scheduled to finalize a revised greater sage-grouse strategy in 2024. 

Similarly, the Bureau of Land Management is developing a rangewide Gunnison sage-grouse conservation strategy (for public lands) and is scheduled to finalize it in 2024. 

Defenders is participating in the revisions of both the Greater and Gunnison sage-grouse conservation strategies. For both, Defenders developed and formally submitted rangewide proposals to protect a network of lands essential to sage-grouse survival as "Areas of Critical Environmental Concern."

Learn more about the current Greater and Gunnison sage-grouse conservation strategy planning process and how you can get involved.


Habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, invasive species, and poor management practices.

Protection Status
Endangered Species Act
IUCN Red List

not listed (greater sage-grouse); threatened (Gunnison sage-grouse)

near threatened (greater sage-grouse) and endangered (Gunnison sage-grouse)

What You Can Do

Hold federal agencies, states and local jurisdictions accountable for conserving sage-grouse species. Remove fences, and mark remaining fences with highly visible flags to help prevent sage-grouse from colliding into them. Manage your land through conservation easements. 

Latin Names
Centrocercus urophasianus, Centrocercus minimus
Greater sage-grouse males are 26-30 inches in length and may be as much as two feet long, while females are smaller. Gunnison sage-grouse are 18-22 inches long, with both sexes about the same size.
The average lifespan is 1-3 years, although individual sage-grouse have been known to live up to 10 years.

Greater sage-grouse are a widely distributed but sparsely populated species that occur in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, with remnant populations in Washington, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Gunnison sage-grouse range is limited to southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah.


The total population of greater sage-grouse is estimated between 200,000 and 400,000, while there are less than 5,000 Gunnison sage-grouse remaining.


Sage-grouse use different seasonal habitats over the during the course of the year, with some populations moving up to 100 miles between spring, summer, autumn and winter habitat areas.


The sage-grouse mating ritual is fascinating to observe, and often described as among the most stirring and colorful natural history pageants in the West. In early spring, at dawn and often at dusk, sage-grouse congregate on "leks"—ancestral strutting grounds to which the birds return year after year. Leks vary in size from one to 40 acres and may be up to 50 miles from the birds’ winter habitat. To attract a hen, cocks strut, fan their tail feathers and swell their breasts to reveal yellow air sacs. The combination of wing movements and inflating and deflating air sacs make an utterly unique "swish-swish-coo-oopoink!" 


While sage-grouse will feed on wildflowers, insects and forage crops in spring and summer, they depend on sagebrush for food year-round, and especially in winter when sagebrush is the only available food source.


Grizzly bear walking through snow at Grand Teton National Park
Washington, DC

Defenders of Wildlife and More Than 100 Conservation Groups Ask Biden, Congress to Oppose ESA-Riders in Interior Appropriations

Defenders of Wildlife joined more than 100 other conservation groups urging President Biden and Democratic Congressional leadership to oppose poison-pill riders, that undermine the Endangered

Wildlife and Wild Places

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