New data on the Wyoming sage grouse population reveals bird numbers will likely decline in the coming year based on an analysis of sage grouse wings provided by hunters. Data collected shows that in 2017, there were 1.2 chicks per hen, compared to 0.9 chicks per hen in 2016. This number mirrors the 10-year average from 2007-2016. Typically, biologists would like to see numbers of 1.4-1.6 chicks per hen to maintain population stability.
Hunters contribute to the management of sage grouse by assisting the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in the data collection through legal, regulated hunting. Wing data is gathered from hunters who voluntarily deposit wings in barrels scattered across central and southwest Wyoming. Over 2000 wings were collected in 2017, and wings from 924 chicks and 767 hens were examined.
“By looking at the ratio of chicks to hens, it gives us a good idea of what our reproduction was for this year, and that helps us predict what our lek counts will be next year in terms of whether there will be more birds or fewer birds based on this year’s reproduction,” Tom Christiansen, sage grouse program coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said. “We appreciate hunters who provided wings. Their participation helps us manage the bird and build on previous years’ data.”
Christiansen says the extreme winter experienced in western Wyoming last year had a minimal effect on sage grouse production, noting that if anything, mortality is usually at its lowest during the winter months.
Wing data is just one tool Game and Fish uses to estimate sage grouse population. Department personnel and other partners also visit over 1,600 leks, or breeding grounds to count the numbers of sage grouse visiting on each lek.