In Our Backyard: Sharp-tailed Grouse


As the Thompson Watershed transitions through fall, you may be able to spot the flocks of the sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus) on the roadside and underneath tree canopies searching for berries, their main source of food this time of year.

The sharp-tailed grouse depends on the grasslands of the Dry Interior for food, shelter, mating and breeding, and tends to be found in shrubby grasslands and in large openings in forests (such as sedge meadow complexes, major burns, and large clear-cuts). They eat mostly grasses, forbs (herbaceous, broadleaf plants), and seeds in the spring and summer, and supplement their diet with insects in fall.

Because many areas of grassland have been lost in BC and continue to be threatened by development, agriculture and forestry practices, the preservation of grasslands in the Thompson Watershed is important for the survival of this species.

In the spring, male grouse gather on traditional dancing ground (leks or lekking territories), to display themselves to nearby females. Males bend low to the ground and raise their tails up in the air while stamping their feet while making cooing noises that can be heard from over a kilometer away. Despite each male participating in this dance, only a select few of these males are successful in courting females who typically mate with older males with the most exciting dances. Males return to these display grounds year after year if undisturbed.

After mating ends in June, females move to nesting areas with a relatively dense cover of shrubs and grasses. After hatching chicks eat mostly insects and remain with their mothers in broods for six to eight weeks.

Due to the loss and fragmentation of grasslands, where they live, feed, mate and nest, the sharp-tailed grouse is blue-listed and a species of Special Concern in BC.

Photo: Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) by Stephen Olivier