Above: Ever on the lookout and ready for take-off; by Peter Taylor
How do I recognize it?
Often confused with the Greater Prairie-Chicken (a bird now extirpated from Canada), the Sharp-tailed Grouse is distinguished from other Manitoba grouse by its pointed tail, which is much shorter than the flowing plumes of a pheasant. Plumage details include innumerable white flecks on its golden-brown back and fine dark chevrons on its white breast, and a yellow comb over the eye is distinctive.
Above: Sharp-tailed Grouse have enviable survival skills; these three are gleaning food from stubble in drifting snow; by Peter Taylor
Does it migrate?
Sharp-tailed Grouse are year-round residents of Manitoba. Though strong fliers, they generally move only short distances between winter and summer areas. Occasionally, birds from northern populations invade southern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario in winter, presumably when their normal winter food supply is scarce or inaccessible because of snow and ice.
Above: Ironically, this Sharp-tailed Grouse, in a boreal setting near Easterville, looks almost hawk-like in its alert posture; by Peter Taylor
Where does it live?
Though best known as a prairie and farmland bird, the Sharp-tailed Grouse’s range extends far north into the boreal forest, where it occupies large, open areas such as burns and the fringes of wetlands.
Above: The spring dancing of male Sharp-tailed Grouse is a memorable sight; by Peter Taylor
Where can I see it?
Though widespread in Manitoba, Sharp-tailed Grouse are most numerous in grassland and marginal farmland, especially where open fields are within easy reach of shrubby cover. They are most conspicuous early in the day, especially in spring when they gather at daybreak to “dance” at traditional mating areas called leks. In winter, they often form flocks of 30 or more birds. They are hardest to find in midsummer, when food and cover are abundant and females are guarding their young.
Above: When disturbed with her brood of chicks, a female Sharp-tailed Grouse puts on a vigorous “broken wing” display to draw away potential predators; by Peter Taylor
Although numbers fluctuate and the Sharp-tailed Grouse has been extirpated from some states at the southern fringe of its range, and has disappeared from some parts of Manitoba, core populations seem to have held up well in recent years. As a species exposed to regulated hunting, it is the subject of both public and private conservation and monitoring efforts.
Above: A plump sharptail explodes into flight; by Peter Taylor
Did you know:
If you flush a grouse in the woods and it just goes a few metres to dense cover, it is most likely either a Ruffed or Spruce Grouse. If it flushes from a field, cackles as it goes, and continues half a kilometre or more to dense cover, it is a Sharp-tailed Grouse. To supply oxygen for this more sustained flight, a Sharp-tailed Grouse’s heart is much larger and its muscles are much more vascularized (“red meat” full of blood vessels) than those of a Ruffed Grouse.
Above: A winter flock of wary sharptails keep their distance; by Peter Taylor