Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus
(Sharp-tailed Grouse)

Order: Galliformes
Order Description: Pheasant, Grouse, Turkey, Quail
Family: Phasianidae
Family Description: Pheasant, Grouse, Turkey, Quail

Physical Description:
15-20" (38-51 cm). Speckled pale brown and blackish overall, somewhat darker above than below, spotted white on wings; belly whitish, spotted dark. Central tail feathers slightly elongated with graduated white outer tail feathers. Male has violet neck sacs and longer tail than female.

Similar Species- Female Ring-necked Pheasant, Prairie-chickens, Ruffed Grouse

A low, dove-like co-coo. Also, squeaky, bubbly cackles.

Locally from Alaska, east to western Quebec, and south to eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, southern Idaho, Utah, Colorado, northeastern New Mexico (at least formerly), and parts of Midwest.

Found in grasslands (especially with scattered woodlands), arid sagebrush, brushy hills, oak savannas, and edges of riparianClick word for definition woodlands. Also found in upland winter wheat fields. In west-central Idaho study, grouse preferred big sagebrush to other summer cover types; mountain shrub and riparian cover types were critical components of winter habitat.


Initially, chicks eat insects and some berries. Adults eat berries, grain, leaves, buds, and flowers of wide variety of plants. In spring, fall, and winter, roughly 10% of adult bird's diet is insects (up to 40% in summer); 90% or more is plant material. In Idaho study, hawthorn fruits and buds of serviceberry and chokecherry were primary winter foods.

Builds concealed nest in depression on ground, in grass or near shrub. Forages in foliage or on ground (broodsClick word for definition forage in short vegetation in early morning and evening, and in taller vegetation at other times). Gathers in flocks in fall and winter. Often uses snow as roost cover in winter. In Idaho study, winter food/cover was regarded as most limiting habitat characteristic for long-term abundance. Spring/autumn home ranges were 1.87 km2. In Montana, spring, summer, and fall distribution of males is generally within 1.6 km of lekClick word for definition; in other states, movements of up to several km between seasonal habitats have been reported.

Males engage in communal courtship displays. Breeding begins early April in southern/western range, to early May in north. Female incubatesClick word for definition 10-13 eggs (usually) for 23-24 days (Idaho study reported average clutchClick word for definition of 10.8). Young are tended by female; brood disperses in 6-8 wk.

Element Code: ABNLC13033
Status: Game species
Global Rank: G4
State Rank: S3
National Rank: N4

Important State References:
Marks, J.S. and V.S. Marks. 1987. Habitat selection by Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in west-central Idaho. USDI Bur. Land Manage., Boise District, U.S. Govt. Report 792-057/40, 019, Boise. 115pp.

Original images provided by Brad Bergstrom,© 1999
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.
Written by Jason Karl, 2000.