Sharp-tailed Grouse to Nevada
In a continuing effort to re-establish sharp-tailed grouse populations in northeastern Nevada, Nevada's Division of Wildlife (NDOW) biologists and technicians traveled to Curlew National Grasslands in Idaho recently to trap the prized game bird.

NDOW biologist Sid Eaton said the project, started in 1999, is beginning to show signs of success. "We have had some unmarked birds, presumed to be offspring of birds released earlier, strutting at a new lek (area used by the birds for mating) a few miles from where earlier releases occurred.

"It is premature to call the reintroduction project a success, but we are very encouraged at the initial results. We are controlling predators in the release area, but the population is still very small."

Northeastern Nevada originally was the southern limit of the sharp-tail's range, and the last known sighting of sharp-tail was in the Independence Mountains in 1939. It is believed that at one time they were one of the most numerous game birds in Elko County.

The relocation project began in the spring of 1999. Idaho Fish and Game (IFG) biologists, familiar with sharp-tail habitat and habits, helped NDOW biologists choose a release site on the east side of the North Snake Range, 20 miles north of Wells.

With the help of IFG personnel and volunteers, University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) students, and NDOW personnel and volunteers, traps are set on traditional lek sites, with the goal of capturing and relocating approximately 50 birds a year for a minimum of five years.

The traps consist of woven wire "pods" approximately 18-24 inches in diameter and 18 inches high, with an opening in which the wire curls back into the pod, very similar to minnow or crayfish traps. A maze of one-foot-high fence lines, made of chicken wire, connect from seven to twelve pods which help to guide the birds into the traps.

"As the males strut to entice females to their part of the lek, they get excited and are easily guided into the pods by the fencing. When the females enter the leks, they head towards the male with the best dance, and if a fence is in the way, follow it trying to get to the male ending up in a pod," Eaton explained.

At that time, observers waiting on the edge of the lek, move quickly to the pod and remove the birds, placing them into grass-lined boxes for transport to the base camp.

Once at the Nevada release site, the birds are banded for future identification purposes, and some receive radio transmitters for monitoring of their movements. They are kept in darkened boxes overnight and released the next morning.

According to UNR graduate student Pete Coates, who has been handling the release and monitoring of the birds as part of his masters' thesis, "Sharp-tail noises are recorded at the Idaho lek sites and then played back while the birds are still in the release boxes. At first, the volume of the playback is quite high to bring previously released birds to the release site, then the volume is turned down to a normal level as the birds are released at sunrise."

He added that the males often exhibit strutting behavior while still in the boxes when they hear the recordings, and when released, will hopefully stay at the release site performing for the hens.

Coates, assisted by another UNR biologay student, will spend the rest of the summer monitoring the birds' survival, location and habits. "Early in the project, mortality was high due to predation as the birds tried to acclimate to their new surroundings. But with predator control efforts in the last year, survival appears to have increased," Coates explained.

According to Coates, one of the keys to reducing mortality from predators is reducing the distance the birds travel in their new home area. It appears that females collected later in April have successfully mated, and once released, find a nest site and settle down to raise a brood, which decreases their vulnerability to predators.

The project is expected to continue through 2003, depending upon the availability of birds from Idaho. Idaho also suffered habitat loss due to fire, but at this time it is not known how that will affect sharp-tail populations on the leks where the trapping occurs.

Easton said that if birds continue to be available, the reintroduction project has a good chance of success, as long as the sharp-tails continue to return to the strutting ground release site, and catastrophic events, such as wildland fires, do not destroy their habitat.

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