SHARP-TAILED GROUSE – (Tympanuchus phasianellus)
The Sharp-tailed Grouse is thus named for a good reason, which can also make it easy to identify – its tail goes straight up when displaying. Adults have an orange eyebrow, and the male has a violet sac on the sides of its neck, which they inflate during courtship. There is a small crest on the head. Plumage is brown with white streaks in both sexes, and the under parts are lighter. The tail in the female is shorter. It is white at the base in both sexes. The length is around 45 cm (17 in.).
The English name ‘Grouse’ stems from old French ‘greoche’. It is also related to the grey color, and the Latin name ‘Tympanuchus’ refers to the exposed tympanum (ear) area of the bird. The Latin part ‘phasianellus’ refers to a pheasant, and ‘nellus’ means ‘small’.
The sharp-tailed grouse has now a well-established population on PEI since its introduction, and is a year-round resident. Sightings of this species on the island however range from rare to uncommon over all seasons. This grouse is actually a Prairie grasslands dweller, both in Canada and the USA. It also inhabits parklands and forest openings. It is usually a year-round resident wherever it is found.
Nesting is on the ground in a well-sheltered location, such as under a stump or shrub. The clutch size is about a dozen eggs. If a clutch is lost to predation or other causes, the sharp-tailed grouse will often try to establish a second one.
Sharp-tailed grouse feed on young leave plants in the spring, on seeds and berries in fall and winter, and on insects
Courtship ritual: male sharp-tailed grouse have an elaborate courtship ritual. On early morning springs, they gather in high numbers in a place called ‘lek’ (from the Swedish word ‘play’), and perform ‘dances’ with cooing sounds to impress and win females. The species will use the same location for their leks year after year, which is why it’s important to preserve those locations.
Conservation: although not listed as being a species of concern on the IUCN Red List, the sharp-tailed grouse population has declined steadily due to loss of habitat. Since European settlement the species has been extirpated in several US states, mainly in the south west part of its initial range. There are also concerns for this bird in the western Canadian provinces, and there are programs for its conservation, such as this one in Alberta for landowners: Sharp-tailed Grouse Conservation – Alberta (downloadable .pdf brochure). Since the sharp-tailed grouse is a game bird, it is still being hunted, although within regulations.
The sharp-tailed grouse is the provincial bird of Saskatchewan.