Sharp-Tailed Grouse

Tympanuchus phasianellus
Range Map

Sharp-tailed Grouse gather at open display grounds known as leks on spring mornings. Females watch as males bend down and raise their pointed tails, stamping their feet at blinding speed, while inflating air sacs to make cooing noises. Some First Nation tribes are very familiar with the spring displays of Sharp-tailed Grouse. They have included parts of the birds’ movements into their own traditional dances. Some continue to practice these dances in the twenty-first century.

When not breeding, these birds forage in grasslands, fields, wetlands, and woodlands, where they may take to the trees and eat leaf buds and small fruits. In winter, Sharp-Tailed Grouse will tunnel through snow to reach their night roosts. These tunnels protect them from predators and provide insulation against extreme cold.

Taxonomists call out six living subspecies and an extinct one.

Northern Forms are dark brown or blackish, with prominent white spotting.

  • T. p. caurus lives in north-central Alaska east to southern Yukon, northeastern British Columbia, northern Alberta, and Saskatchewan. 
  • T. p. kennicotti lives in Northwest Territories from Mackenzie River to Great Slave Lake. 
  • T. p. phasianellus lives in northern Manitoba, Ontario, and west-central Quebec.
  • T. p. campestris lives the central lowlands and prairies, from east-central Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, and western Ontario and south across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. 

Southern Forms are Paler and ‌brown with black mottling. White spotting is not prominent.

  • T. p. columbianus lives on the Columbia Plateau and Great Basin, occupying sagebrush-grassland and mountain shrub habitats from interior central and southern British Columbia south to Utah and southwestern Colorado. 
  • T. p. jamesi lives on the Great Plains east of the Rocky Mountains from central and southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba south to northeastern Colorado and Nebraska.
  • T. p. hueyi is known from only 9 specimens. They formerly lived on restricted areas of high plains grasslands in northeastern New Mexico. No one has seen them since 1952. 

I’m afraid the images I’ve captured are sub-par. My only meeting so far was in 2022 when a bird peeked at me through tall prairie grass at Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan. Perhaps one day I will meet them again.

2 Photos

Click map markers to reveal further information