Sharp Tailed Grouse, Tympanuchus phasianellus

The Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) is a prairie grouse of medium size. It has also known as the sharptail, and is known as “fire grouse” or “fire bird” by Native American Indians because of their reliance on brush fires to keep their habitat open.

Six extant and one extinct subspecies of Sharp-tailed Grouse have been described. This grouse along with the Greater Prairie-chicken and the Lesser Prairie-chicken make up the genus Tympanuchus, which is a genus of grouse found only in North America.

The adults have a fairly short tail with the two central feathers being square tipped and somewhat longer than their lighter, outer tail feathers giving the bird its distinctive name. The plumage is mottled dark and light browns against a white background. They’re lighter on the underparts with a white belly uniformly covered in faint “V”-shaped markings. These markings distinguish sharp-tailed grouse from lesser and greater prairie chickens which are heavily barred on their underparts. The adult males have a yellow comb over their eyes and a violet colored display patch on their neck. This display patch is another distinguishing trait from prairie chickens as male prairie chickens have yellow or orange colored air sacs. The female individual is smaller than the male and can be distinguished by the regular horizontal markings across the deck feathers as opposed to the irregular markings on the male’s deck feathers which run parallel to the feather shaft. The females also show a tendency to have less obvious combs. The males weigh an average of 33.5 ounces and the females average 29 ounces.

Historically, this grouse occupied eight Canadian provinces and 21 U.S. states pre-European settlement. They ranged from as far north as Alaska and south to California and New Mexico, and east to Quebec, Canada. Following European settlement, the grouse has been extirpated from California, Kansas, Nevada, Illinois, and New Mexico.

These birds feed on the ground in the summer, and in the trees during the winter. The consume seeds, buds, berries, leaves, insects, and forbs during the summer.

This is a lekking bird species. They display in open areas known as leks with other males, anywhere from a single male to 20 will occupy one lek.

Image Caption: A Sharp-tailed Grouse. Credit: Teo/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)