Tympanuchus phasianellussharp-tailed grouse

Geographic Range

Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) are native to the United States and Canada. The range of this species is as far west as Alaska, as far east as Matagami, Canada, as far northwest as the shore of the Beaufort Sea, and as far northeast as the Hudson Bay. The range continues southward into the United States, touching the northwest tip of Kansas and covering the western half of Nebraska and eastern half of Wyoming. (Birdlife International, 2012; Connelly, et al., 1998)

The sharp-tailed grouse has six subspecies that range throughout the previously listed areas. Tympanuchus phasianellus carus ranges from the eastern side of Alaska, eastward to the Yukon providence, British Columbia and Alberta. Tympanuchus phasianellus kennicotti inhabits areas throughout the Northwest Territories. Tympanuchus phasianellus phasianellus ranges from Ontario to Quebec. Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus ranges from British Columbia southward, to Washington, Idaho, and Colorado. Tympanuchus phasianellus jamesi ranges from Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada, and also covers Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas. Tympanuchus phasianellus campestris ranges from western Ontario to the western Great Lakes. (Birdlife International, 2012; Connelly, et al., 1998; Lisney, et al., 2012)


During the spring and summer, sharp-tailed grouse are often located in prairies, grasslands, agricultural areas, bogs and open woodland habitats. In the beginning of fall, they move to areas of higher elevation with taller shrubs and open wetlands, where they stay throughout the winter. Although sharp-tailed grouse are not normally migratory birds, they have been known to migrate less than 34km from their winter locations during harsh winters. Due to recent habitat limitations, sharp-tailed grouse are now primarily found on agriculture land. ("Habitat suitability idea models: Plains sharp-tailed grouse", 1987; "Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Connelly, et al., 1998)

Physical Description

Sharp-tailed grouse have similar features to that of greater prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) and lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). Sharp-tailed grouse have short feathered legs, rounded bodies, and short tails that come to a very sharp point at the end. Their feathers are patterned with a mixture of dark colors ranging from brown and black. These birds have V-shaped olive marks, which is attached to their white breast feathers. A yellow rounded crest is present in males and females, superior to their eyes. Males have a bright purple air sacs, which females lack. They can inflate these air sacs when vocalizing.

Grouse length is typically 41-47 cm, and body mass is 596-1,031 g. These birds' wingspans are typically 186-223 mm (average 204.5 mm).

Juveniles are fully-feathered by the age of 6 weeks, and look similar to dull-colored females. They are grayish in appearance, and breast feathers are more buff-colored than white.

Similar species include the greater prairie-chicken Tympanuchus cupido and lesser prairie-chicken Tympanuchus pallidicinctus. The sharp-tailed grouse's V-marks on their breasts make them unique, as other species are spotty or barred. The purple air sacs of sharp-tailed grouse differ for other species, which are yellowish-orange instead. ("Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Birdlife International, 2012; Connelly, et al., 1998; Spaulding, et al., 2006)

  • Range mass
    596 to 1,031 g
    21.00 to oz
  • Range length
    41 to 47 cm
    16.14 to 18.50 in
  • Range wingspan
    186 to 223 mm
    7.32 to 8.78 in


The sharp-tail grouse is polygynandrous. Sharp-tail grouse form leks, which are areas where males compete for females during breeding season. Leks are usually formed in open areas, such as knolls and ridge tops, that allow females to spot males easily. Mating begins in March, when males begin to form leks, with the peak breeding season from mid-April to late May. Most mating takes place in the early morning hours, just before dawn. Males travel < 1km to their respective leks, and select their resting habitats with a viewing of the lek where they are dominant. Males establish dominance on leks by resting in areas around the lek, and eventually moving to the middle of the lek. This process allows all other grouse to distinguish the dominant grouse from the rest of the male grouse. When both females and males are present on leks, the males perform a dance to compete for females. The dance consists of the males rapidly firing their feet while exhibiting a circle motion with their wings spread wide, which allows clear exposure of their yellow comb and violet patch. These colored patches are meant to attract the females. This male dance is initiated when females walk by males in a way that a white spot, located on the females’ shoulder, is visible. Once mates are chosen, male grouse mount the females’ backs, while grabbing females’ neck feathers for balance. The females then turn to expose their tail feather more easily, so that the reproductive organs can meet. After mating, females shake themselves to reorganize their feathers before leaving the leks. ("Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Connelly, et al., 1998)

Males mate with more than one partner per breeding season, March-August. Females’ nests are composed of moss, grass, ferns, and leaves from shrubs and trees, and they are lined with their own breast feathers. Nests are shallow divots in the ground, usually 17.5 cm by 20 cm and 7 cm in depth. Females make their nests near leks, under small trees or shrubs. This keeps nests hidden from predators, prior to mating. The average distance of a nest from the leks is less than 2 km. Females, on average, lay their first egg 2 days after mating. The egg shape resembles an oval, and in northern grouse the egg color is light brown, while in southern habitats it is darker to resemble the surrounding habitats. Average eggs size is 43.1 cm by 32.3 cm, and females lay ca. 12 eggs on average. time to hatching is 21-25 days. When hatched the chicks weigh on average 19.1 g. The chicks are precocial and at 12 weeks old they are fully-grown and able to leave their mothers. The age at which the chicks will reach sexual maturity is 1 year. ("Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Connelly, et al., 1998)

  • Breeding interval
    Sharp-tail grouse breed once yearly
  • Breeding season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    21 to 25 days
  • Average fledging age
    12 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    12 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Male sharp-tailed grouse have no role in brood rearing beyond mating. Therefore, females are left to raise the young on their own. After laying their eggs within a nest that they made, females incubate the eggs on the nest for approximately 21 to 25 days. During this time a predator may be present near the nest leading the mother to fake an injury to lure the predator away from the nest. Hatchling grouse are fairly independent, and leave the nest 24 hours after hatching, but follow their mother for up to 12 weeks. This makes the hatched sharp-tailed grouse to be precocial when hatched. During this time, the mother moves the young chicks to an open area with vegetation and prey. At the 12 weeks, the young grouse are fully grown, and are able to survive on their own. ("Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Connelly, et al., 1998)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • extended period of juvenile learning


The maximum lifespan for male and female sharp-tailed grouse is 7.5 years. Connelly et al. (1998) cited a study completed in an unhunted area in Washington, and reported that 53% of the population of sharp-tailed grouse survived that year. During the spring, males had a higher survival rate than females. Sharp-tailed grouse are not kept in captivity. ("Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Connelly, et al., 1998)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    7.5 years


Sharp-tailed grouse are social birds. Sharp-tailed grouse spend a majority of their time on the ground. When the grouse do fly, it is not for a long period of time. Sharp-tailed grouse fly less than 100 meters per day, and spend less time in the air when present on leks. Usually, when sharp-tail grouse fly above leks it is to alert other grouses that there is a predator present. When in the air, sharp-tail grouse’s wing speed is on average 69 km/h. When female grouse are in the presence of a predator around their nest, they will present themselves as injured to lure the predator away from their nest. During the winter months, males and females burrow into the ground to rest for the night, and when the ground does not allow the grouse to bury themselves, they will rest in trees. The grouse will clean themselves after a rainstorm by rolling in dry soil with their feathers flocked while twisting to expose dust onto the damp features for drying purposes. These grouse do not migrate.

Sharp-tailed grouse are diurnal. Male grouse forms leks, which are formed when groups are males are present in one area to compete for females during breeding seasons. The formation of leks may cause conflicts between male grouse or with greater prairie chickens (Tympanuchus cupido), due to their close proximity with each other. Males perform a dance that is used to compete for females when present on leks. Leks have, on average, 20 males present during the breeding seasons. Females are in groups of 10, on average, and will choose three males at one lek to mate with and then leave that lek. Most of the males that breed are the larger and the most mature males present at the leks. These males usually hold the center of the lek, which communicates to the females that they are the most dominant male present. This gives them a greater chance to mate and a larger sperm count. ("Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Akcakaya, et al., 2004; Connelly, et al., 1998)

Home Range

Males and females have different territories. Females build nests less than 2km from lek sites. When hatching occurs a female will travel less than 200 m from nests to provide for the young grouses. In Wisconsin, male habitat range was recorded for a total of 55 square km.

Spring and fall home ranges, across their geographic range, ranged from 13 to 406 hectares. Winter home ranges varied from 22 to 523 hectares. ("Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Akcakaya, et al., 2004; Connelly, et al., 1998)

Communication and Perception

Although males and females both communicate vocally, males have been known to demonstrate a greater diversity of calls. Sharp-tailed grouse use these different vocal patterns to attract mates and warn surrounding grouse. Connelly et al. (1998) noted 6 distinct calls that are present amongst sharp-tailed grouse. A “crackle” is used when the bird feels threatened in its surroundings. The “coo,” at a frequency of 299-339 Hz, is used as a welcoming method from the males to females that are present. The “cork” is generated from the females when selecting a males when present on leks, and a “chilk” is used as a distracting sound from surrounding males when females “cork”. The “gobble” is used by males between males when establishing territories on leks. The “whine” is used when males are in close proximity with each other. It is known that sharp-tailed grouse can hear, because they respond to calls from other grouse. Sharp-tailed grouse also have panoramic eyesight, which is common in most bird species. ("Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Connelly, et al., 1998)

Food Habits

Sharp-tailed grouse are mainly herbivores with feeding on a variety of leaves ,flowers, fruits, grains, seeds, nuts with also eating insects. During the Fall and Winter the sharp-tailed grouse feeds on tamarack (Larix laricina) leaf buds, white birch (Betula papyrifera) buds and catkins, dwarf birch (Betula glandulosa) buds and catkins, sunflower (Helianthus), goldenrod (Solidago), sumac (Rhus), Russian olive (Eleagnus angustifolia) fruits, buffalo berry (Shepherdia argentea), dock (Wyethia amplexicaulus), maple (Acer grandidentatum) buds, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), midges (Rhopalomyia), grasshoppers, beetles, galls from sagebrush, fruits, grain, acorns, rose hips, aspen buds, chokecherry Prunus virginiana buds, grasses, snowberry Symphoricarpos, hawthorn Crataegus, serviceberry Amelanchier, and willow Salix buds.

During the spring and summer the sharp-tailed grouse clover (Trifolium), hawkweed (Hieracium), corn (Zea mays), gromwell (Lithospermum), smartweed (Polygonum), Oregon grape (Berberis repens), goatsbeard (Tragopogon dubius), yarrow (Achilea millefolium), sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus), fruits, goldenrod Solidago, grasses, grass seed, rose, dandelion Taraxacum officinale, wheat, dock, ants, crickets, moths, grasshoppers, and beetles. ("Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Connelly, et al., 1998; Thomas, 1984)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers


Sharp-tailed grouse are known to be cryptic. Predation is known to be the number one cause of death for sharp-tailed grouse. They are most preyed upon during their breeding season, due to their high density on leks. Mammals that prey on sharp-tail grouse are coyotes (Canis latrans), American mink (Neovison vison), long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata), and red foxes (Vulpes vulpes). Birds that prey on sharp-tailed grouses are red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis), peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus), gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus), great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), long-eared owls (Asio otus), short-eared owls (Asio flammeus), northern harriers (Circus cyaneus), golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), prairie falcons (Falco mexicanus), bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Nest predators of sharp-tailed grouses include striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi), ground squirrels (Spermophilus), black-billed magpies (Pica pica), American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), and common ravens (Corvus corax). ("Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Conover and Borgo, 2009; "Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Connelly, et al., 1998; Conover and Borgo, 2009)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

The sharp-tailed grouse are affected by the following actoparasites include lice (Goniodes nerbraskensis, Armyrsidea megalosoma, Lagopoecus perplexus). Internal parasites include tapeworms (Rhabdometra millicolis, Raillietina centrocerci), roundworms (Oxyspriura petrowi, Dispharynx nasuta, Subulura strongylina, Cyrnea colini) and protozoans (Trypanosoma ayium, Eimeria angusta, Leucocytozoon bonasae). Also, there are unidentified species such as mites, chiggers and flukes. (Braun and Willers, 1966; Connelly, et al., 1998)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • lice (Gonioes nebraskensis)
  • lice (Armysidea megalosoma)
  • lice (Lagopoecus perplexus)
  • tapeworms (Rhabdometra millicolis)
  • tapeworms (Raillietina centrocerci)
  • roundworms (Dispharynx nasuta)
  • roundworms (Oxyspirura petrowi)
  • roundworms (Subulura strongylina)
  • roundworms (Crynea colini)
  • protozoans (Trypanosoma avium)
  • protozoans (Eimeria angusta)
  • protozoans (Leucocytozoon bonasae)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Sharp-tailed grouse are a game species, hunted by humans. Although sharp-tailed grouse hunting seasons vary among states and provinces, most seasons include fall to winter. Grouse, when harvested, are used for food. In South Dakota, hunting grounds contain wing boxes that allow the number of harvested grouse to be collected by hunters depositing one wing from their grouse in the box. Counties in the western region of the state have a higher harvesting rates than those in the east. One of the higher harvesting counties is Perkins County, in which 711 hunters harvested 3,382 grouse in 2015. (South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, 2015; "Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)", 2007; Birdlife International, 2012; Connelly, et al., 1998)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no economic effects of sharp-tailed grouse on humans.

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, sharp-tailed grouse are considered as a species of “Least Concern,” and there is no special status listed by the United States government for sharp-tail grouse. The subspecies Columbian sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus) have been petitioned twice for threatened or endangered in the state of Washington. Also, there have been talks about translocation to try to replenish the population.

The two main causes of death are habitat loss and hunting. Fire does contribute to short term population decline. However, these fires also have a positive long-term impact on vegetation, and result in higher growth rates among grouse populations in subsequent years. Grouse are hunted in 18 states and provinces across the U.S. and Canada. Among grouse populations within Wisconsin, harvest rates due to hunting were determined to be 30% of the population in 1948. Some states may close hunting seasons in an attempt to increase population sizes. However, the effectiveness of closing hunting seasons has been questioned. In Utah, hunting seasons were closed for 25 years to try to increase population sizes, but this strategy was not successful. (Birdlife International, 2012; Connelly, et al., 1998; Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior, 2006)


Samuel Stowers (author), Radford University, Alex Atwood (editor), Radford University, Marisa Dameron (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


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