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Wing counts indicate decline in Wyoming’s sage grouse reproduction rate; drought likely a factor

Greater Sage Grouse (Shutterstock)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department said on Monday that early estimates from sage grouse wing counts in 2021 indicate a decline in the species’ reproduction rate in the state compared with the previous year.

The wing counts are based on wings harvested from chick and hen sage grouse collected by hunters, primarily in the central and southwest parts of Wyoming. Hunters voluntarily contribute wings to the counts by dropping them off at designated collecting points during the hunting season, according to Game and Fish.

In 2021, hunters submitted wings from 621 sage grouse chicks and 750 hens.

“In a preliminary analysis, Wyoming’s 2021 chick-to-hen ratio was 0.8 chicks/hen,” Game and Fish said. “It’s a decrease from two previous years where reproduction ratios held at 1.1 chicks/hen. Based on these numbers, male lek attendance is expected to be lower this spring.”

Game and Fish Sage Grouse/Sagebrush Biologist Leslie Schreiber said that drought conditions in the state are likely a factor in the decreased reproduction rate.

“There’s no doubt that Wyoming’s drought has an impact on this year’s chick recruitment,” Schreiber said. “Good moisture in the spring and summer and quality habitat are the top two contributing factors of chick survival.”

Sage grouse chicks rely on a diet of high-protein insects and adequate habitat cover for survival during their first month of life. Game and Fish adds that grasses and forbs such as wildflowers become important food sources as the birds grow. Older sage grouse depend mainly on sagebrush for food.

“Sage grouse are a sagebrush obligate species and could not survive without it,” Schreiber said.

Wyoming is home to about 38% of the world’s sage grouse. There are over 1,700 known occupied “leks” in the state. These are communal areas where males display courtship behaviors.

Game and Fish said that hunters’ contributions of sage grouse wings are important to understanding of the species.
“We appreciate hunters dropping off wings in our collection barrels; this enhances our annual data collection efforts,” Schreiber said.

The department said that a full analysis of sage grouse populations will be available in the spring.