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Breeding Birds of the Platte River Valley

Sharp-tailed Grouse -- (Tympanuchus phasianellus)

Nebraska Status: A locally common permanent resident primarily north of the Platte River and west of the edge of the Sandhills. Formerly much more widespread (Johnsgard 1980).

Platte River Status: An uncommon and local permanent resident; occasionally wintering along the Platte River. Tout (1947) stated that at the period of this residence, sharp-tailed grouse was "formerly very common, recently quite rare but said to be increasing in number again" in Lincoln County. Tout (1936) reported that greater prairie-chickens were about 4 times more numerous than sharp-tailed grouse in Lincoln County. Mohler (1944) stated that sharp-tailed grouse was seldom observed outside the Sandhills region in the early 1940's.

Breeding Range: Currently restricted to the Sandhills physiographic region during the nesting season. Mohler (1944) provides a map indicating that formerly the range of sharp-tailed grouse was more extensive in the state and within the Platte River Valley.

Breeding Population: The population was estimated at 2,570 breeding pairs in 1979-1980. Because our census effort did not coincide with the period of peak courtship activity for this species, we believe our population estimate to be a minimum.

Habitat: We found a mean nesting density of <0.2 pairs per km2 in upland prairie. Sharp-tailed grouse is characteristic of extensive areas of native grasslands such as those occurring in the Sandhills. Kantrud and Kologiski (1982) found that in the northern Great Plains, sharp-tailed grouse nesting density decreased progressively as grazing intensity increased. Grass species occurring with above average cover values in optimum sharp-tailed grouse habitat were bluebunch wheatgrass, Junegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, Sandberg bluegrass, and green needlegrass. Kantrud and Kologiski (1982) summarized numerous papers that established the detrimental impact of livestock grazing on sharp-tailed grouse habitat on the northern Great Plains. Stressing the point, Kirsch et al. (1973) considered even lightly grazed areas to be of only limited importance to this bird, when compared to idle grasslands. Optimum nesting habitat often contains relatively tall, dense vegetation (Brown 1966, Christenson 1970, Kohn 1976, Sisson 1976).

Effect of Habitat Alteration: The destruction of native grasslands to accommodate intensified agricultural production has limited this species range and population within the study area. Intensive grazing of native grasslands by livestock produces a negative impact on sharp-tailed grouse (Kirsch et al. 1973).

Nesting Data: We have no confirmed records of nests or young from the study area. Courtship activities on dancing grounds reached peak intensity in mid-April. In Nebraska, peak egg laying occurs in mid-May, and peak hatching during the second week of June (Sisson 1976).

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