Wings from harvested chick and hen sage grouse were collected from hunters. Photo: BLM Wyoming

WYOMING — Early estimates from Wyoming’s 2021 sage grouse wings indicate reproduction declined slightly in the last year.

Game and Fish derived estimates from hunters in central and southwest Wyoming who collected wings from harvested chick and hen sage grouse. These hunters voluntarily contributed wings by dropping them off at designated collection points during the hunting season.

Hunters deposited wings from 621 chicks and 750 hens in collection barrels. In a preliminary analysis, Wyoming’s 2021 chick-to-hen ratio was 0.8 chicks/hen. It’s a decrease from two previous years where reproduction ratios held at 1.1 chicks/hen. Based on these numbers, male lek attendance is expected to be lower this spring.

“There’s no doubt that Wyoming’s drought has an impact on this year’s chick recruitment,” said Leslie Schreiber, Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s sage grouse/sagebrush biologist. “Good moisture in the spring and summer and quality habitat are the top two contributing factors of chick survival.”

During the first month of life, chicks rely on a diet of high-protein insects with adequate habitat cover. As the bird grows, grass and forbs —like wildflowers — become another important food source. Older birds rely almost exclusively on sagebrush in their diet.

“Sage grouse are a sagebrush obligate species and could not survive without it,” Schreiber said.

Thirty-eight percent of the world’s sage grouse inhabit Wyoming and the state supports more than 1,700 known, occupied leks. Wyoming is a sage grouse stronghold, Schreiber notes, and hunters who harvest birds provide valuable information for management.

“We appreciate hunters dropping off wings in our collection barrels, this enhances our annual data collection efforts,” Schreiber said.

A full analysis for 2021 bird populations will be available in the sage grouse job completion report, posted on the Game and Fish website in the spring.

Buckrail @ Caroline

Caroline Chapman is a Community News Reporter. She enjoys reading non-fiction, skiing, hiking, and playing piano in her downtime. Her favorite aspect about living in Jackson is the genuine admiration that Wyomingites share for the land and the life that it sustains.