Plants and Animals

Tympanuchus phasianellus Sharp-tailed grouse

species photo

Key Characteristics

The Sharp-tailed grouse is a chicken-like bird with a length of 17 inches (43 cm) and a wingspan of 25 inches (64 cm). It has a stocky oval shape with a small head and a light colored, sharply pointed tail. It is pale below, with chevron markings on its flanks. Its back and wings are darker and it has a slight crest at the back of its head. Males displaying and booming on the lekking ground will exhibit purple air sacs on either side of the neck while they dance with wings and neck outstretched parallel to the ground and tail upright.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3S4 - Rank is uncertain, ranging from vulnerable to apparently secure


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Alger 5 2009
Chippewa 24 2018
Delta 1 2000
Luce 1 2002
Mackinac 5 2013
Ontonagon 4 2000
Schoolcraft 11 2010

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Sharp-tailed grouse are year round residents and use a wide variety of early successional habitats from grasslands, prairies, savannas, and barrens. In Michigan these habitats are frequently in isolated pockets within forested landscapes. Shrub thickets may be important for providing winter cover and food.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Avoid mowing, brush cutting/removal, or herbicide application during the nesting season from May through July. Insecticide applications may also reduce the prey items available to adults and chicks. Prescribed burning may be used outside the nesting season to set back the succession from dense shrubs to more grassland or savanna. Prescribed burns should be as large as possible but burn managers need to consider impacts to other natural communities and species before conducting the burns.

Active Period

Brood Rearing from third week of May to fourth week of July

Nesting from first week of April to third week of May

Survey Methods

Sharp-tailed grouse are most easily surveyed early in the nesting season while males are displaying on the leks (communal dancing ground) from dawn to approximately one hour after sunrise. Their booming calls may be heard from a considerable distance, whether on foot or in an automobile. Surveys conducted later in the nesting season will be more difficult but should focus on locating broods.

Visual survey, displaying males

Survey Period: From first week of April to third week of May

Time of Day: Morning (sunrise)


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Brewer, R., G. A. McPeek, and R. J. Adams Jr., eds. 1991. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing. 650pp.
  • Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Knopf, Toronto. 544pp.