Tympanuchus phasianellus jamesi
Status: Locally common regular resident north and west, rare casual elsewhere. Uncommon casual winter visitor south and east of breeding range.
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM12561, 23 Feb 1896 Harrison, Sioux Co.
Taxonomy: Six subspecies were listed by AOU (1957) and Madge and McGowan (2002); Nebraska birds were considered part of T. p. jamesi. Pyle (2008) listed only two subspecies and included jamesi in T. p. columbianus, occupying the southern part of the species’ range.
Hybrids with Greater Prairie-Chicken (T. cupido) are well-known (Mathisen and Mathisen 1959). Nebraska hybrid specimens UNSM ZM13554 and ZM13555 were collected 12 Feb 1959 in Loup Co and ZM13553 was collected Dec 1965 in Cherry Co. Hybrids have also been reported from Garden, Cherry, McPherson, Thomas, Hall, Knox, Keya Paha, and Rock Cos. These counties are in the central and eastern Sandhills, where both species occur. There was a report of a “possible hybrid” in southwest Lincoln Co by an experienced observer 12 Dec 2016, most likely suggestive of influence from north of the Platte River Valley.
Johnsgard and Wood (1968) suggested that hybridization occurred when numbers of each species were about equal, but it could be argued that the areas of overlap of the species’ ranges tend to be in peripheral habitat for each and overall numbers are low or there are few birds present on the lek of one of the two species, limiting choice of potential mates. Mixed leks in Loup and Knox Cos in 2005 had far fewer Sharp-tailed Grouse than Greater Prairie-Chickens (4:14 and 2:27 respectively; Mark Brogie, pers. comm.). In 2010, a single male Sharp-tailed Grouse was at a Greater Prairie-Chicken lek near Winnetoon, Knox Co 20 Mar-19 May. In Michigan, hybridization was noted to be a temporary phenomenon between these species, taking place when the two were rapidly undergoing a change in relative numbers as Sharp-tailed Grouse replaced Greater Prairie-Chicken (Ammann 1957).
Changes since 2000: Reports from Kimball and Banner Cos are increasing; this is the only area south of the North Platte and Platte River Valleys where the species occurs regularly. An apparently relict population on the Taylor Ranch, just northwest of Grand Island, Hall Co (Lingle 1994) has not been reported since 2014 (Rick Rasmussen, pers. comm.) although a hybrid was photographed there in 2018 (Colleen Childers, pers. comm.).
Resident: All counties north of the North Platte and Platte Rivers are occupied except for the northeast. Easternmost records are of one at Buckskin Hills WMA, Dixon Co 9 Apr 2005, another near Buckskin Hills WMA 7 May 2019, one five miles south of Creighton in Antelope Co in 2004. Southerly reports include two leks in 2006-2008 in north-central Dawson Co 2006-2008 and singles in southern Buffalo Co 25 Jul 2003 and at Rowe Sanctuary 16 Aug 2018. The only reports south of the Platte River Valley and east of the Panhandle are of one at Hastings, Adams Co 2 May 1943 (Jorgensen 2012), one at Victor Lake WPA, Gosper Co 7 Jul 1994, and a “probable” breeding report in Dundy Co (Mollhoff 2016).
Sharp-tailed Grouse occurs in small but apparently increasing numbers in the Panhandle in Kimball and Banner Cos; 16 were seen in central Kimball Co 23 Sep 1995, 10 were there 25 Aug 2014, and 1-6 in Kimball and Banner Cos 29 Apr-23 May 2012. There were 20 in southwest Banner Co 12 Apr 1997 and eight there 18 Apr 2008.
Like Greater Prairie-Chicken, male Sharp-tailed Grouse gather on leks where they display communally in an effort to attract a mate. Although leks may be attended by males from late winter through spring, peak activity occurs during the hen visitation period mid-Apr to early May. Dancing grounds are usually broad hilltops of short grass, but large open valleys may be used in the Sandhills, particularly where hilltops are sharp, choppy, and unstable. A nesting study in the Western Sandhills indicated a nest density of one per 70 hectares (one per 174 acres) (Blus and Walker 1966).
- Breeding Phenology:
Displaying males on lek: 13 Feb.
Eggs: 8 May-5 Aug.
Dependent young: 8 Jun-11 Aug.
Winter: This species is not as prone as Greater Prairie-Chicken to move southeastward of the breeding range in winter. There are few such reports: 26 Oct 1986 and 21 Dec 1987 in Polk Co, 3 Dec 1982 in Lancaster Co, and 12 Jan 1976 in Adams Co.
- High counts: 50 in Thomas Co 7 Sep 2015, and a flock of 44 near Broken Bow 2 Oct 2010.
Highest CBC totals are 129 at Calamus-Loup in 1994, 104 at North Platte in 1992, 54 at Greeley in 1969, and 53 at Crawford in 1979.
Jeffrey J. Lusk provided numerous helpful comments that improved this species account.
Ammann, G.A. 1957. The Prairie Grouse of Michigan. Michigan Department of Conservation Technical Bulletin. Michigan Department of Conservation, Lansing, Michigan, USA.
American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1957. The AOU Check-list of North American birds, 5th ed. Port City Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Blus, L.J., and J.A. Walker. 1966. Progress report on the Prairie Grouse nesting study in the Nebraska Sandhills. NBR 34: 23-30.
Johnsgard, P.A., and R. Wood. 1968. Distributional changes and interaction between Prairie Chickens and Sharp-Tailed Grouse in the Midwest. Wilson Bulletin 80: 173-188.
Jorgensen, J.G. 2012. Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Lingle, G.R. 1994. Birding Crane River: Nebraska’s Platte. Harrier Publishing Grand Island, Nebraska, USA.
Madge, S., and P. McGowan. 2002. Pheasants, partridges, and grouse. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.
Mathisen, J., and A. Mathisen. 1959. Sharp-tailed Grouse and Prairie Chickens. NBR 27: 28.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Pyle, P. 2008. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part II, Anatidae to Alcidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.
Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020. Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org
Birds of Nebraska – Online
Updated 15 Oct 2020