The Greater Sage Grouse is the largest species of grouse in North America, but it is now found only in small areas in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and is likely Canada’s most endangered species of bird with only 138 birds living in the wild.
The grouse’s population has declined about 98 percent over the past 25 to 45 years. The main cause of decline is from human disturbance of Greater Sage Grouse habitat. Oil, gas, and other development in areas where the grouse breed, winter, nest, and raise their young is a leading factor in their population drop.
In 2013, the Canadian government issued an emergency protection order under the federal Species at Risk Act to try to prevent the birds’ extinction. A 10-year captive breeding program, which will cost $5.3 million, was started at the Calgary Zoo this spring.
This past May, zoo biologists collected 13 eggs from nests in southeastern Alberta and placed in an incubator at the Calgary Zoo. All of the eggs hatched, but two chicks didn’t survive. When the chicks reached 10 days old, they were moved to the zoo’s Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre to be raised.
Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, head of conservation and research at the Calgary Zoo, said,
We are extremely pleased to have developed a process with the Alberta Government of safely finding, moving, and hatching sage grouse eggs that have been collected in the wild. We are demonstrating immediate action to respond to the species’ imminent risk of extinction in Canada. This is the first step towards founding a captive population that can serve to recover the species in the future.
This project is only one piece of the puzzle in solving the population decline of the Greater Sage Grouse. More has to be done about preserving the ever shrinking native praire in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan. Oil, gas, and other economic development has taken such a large toll on the small and fragile population.
Hopefully this breeding program will succeed for the next nine years and help increase the population of the grouse. If this reintroduction program works, I would love to drive down to the Manyberries area in southern Alberta and observe the male grouse dancing on their leks, It would be such a sight to see.