US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in The Prairie Naturalist 34(3/4): September/December 2002. Published by the Great Plains Natural Science Society


We evaluated nesting habitat selection (disproportionate use compared to availability) by plains sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus jamesi) on rangelands grazed by cattle (Bas taurus) relative to height, density, and heterogeneity of residual herbaceous vegetation remaining from previous growing seasons. Residual cover is critical for nesting sharp-tailed grouse and can be lacking on grazed rangelands. Aerial photography and a geographic information system were used to analyze residual cover height classes and several measures of residual cover heterogeneity in nest (n = 38) and random (n = 38) plots. Height classes corresponded to visual obstruction readings (YORs), the height to which total visual obstruction by vegetation occurs. Analyses were conducted for five spatial scales ranging from 1 to 16 ha to test for scale effects on nesting habitat selection. Sharp-tailed grouse selected nesting habitat with more area in tall (greater than or equal to 4 cm YOR) residual cover than at random sites at all scales, less area in short residual cover (less than 2 cm YOR) at the I-ha scale, and less area in short and medium (2 to 3.9 cm YOR) residual cover at the 2- through 16-ha scales. Selection of shrub habitat containing patches of shrubs was evident only at the 16-ha scale. Patches of tall residual cover were larger in nest plots than in random plots at the 8- and 16-ha scales, and patches of short cover were smaller in nest plots at the I-ha scale. Two scales of pattern defined by mean patch size were detected for overall residual cover, but did not relate to nesting habitat selection.