The sharp-tailed grouse is a native upland game bird of Utah. Hunters draw for limited permits each year in Box Elder County and other open-country upland areas. The sharp-tails particularly like the tall crested wheat grass of dry farms. Some game birds, such as ring-necked pheasants and chukar, are introduced nonnative species.
The sharp-tailed grouse is a chickenlike bird of open sage-steppe habitats. Population estimates show that the sharp-tail has been reduced by about 96 percent, primarily through loss of habitat. Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources continues work to restore their habitat.
Males dance on a display ground called a lek in the spring. It is a very efficient and successful breeding strategy. Rather than wander aimlessly around broad sage flats with the hope of bumping into a female sharp-tail, males gather on a lek. Females watch the males dance, fight and exert dominance. Hens then determine with whom they will breed.
Dancing males bend at the waist, with their "sharp tail" raised in a point (hence its name). Neck feathers open, displaying beautiful lavender neck sacs. Yellow combs over the eyes are raised for added effect. The bird rapidly stomps its feet while holding its wings out and pirouettes, sounding like a two-stroke motor as it dances.
Male birds provide no parental care. A female may visit a lek multiple times, and she may visit two different leks. The female builds a ground nest. She will incubate 5-17 eggs up to 24 days. The young leave the nest shortly after hatching, following the female who will tend them. The young are able to eat insects, berries, grains, buds and leaves.
Bill Fenimore is owner of the Layton Wild Bird Center, http://www.wildbird.com/layton, author of The Backyard Birds of Utah and a member of the Utah Wildlife Board.