The Gunnison Grouse, Centrocercus minimus, is a species of grouse endemic to the United States.
It is restricted in range to southwestern Colorado and extreme southeastern Utah, with the largest population residing in the Gunnison Basin region in Colorado.
Despite being native to a country where the avifauna generally is relatively well known, it was overlooked until the 1990s due the similarities with the Greater Sage-Grouse, and only described as a new species in 2000—making it the first new avian species to be described from the USA since the 19th century.
The description of C. minimus as a separate species is supported by a molecular study of genetic variation, showing that gene flow between the large-bodied and the small-bodied birds is absent.
It is similar to the closely related Greater Sage-Grouse in appearance but about a third smaller in size, with much thicker plumes behind the head.
It also has a less elaborate courtship dance.
Breeding / Nesting
Gunnison Grouse are notable for their elaborate courtship rituals. Each spring males congregate on leks and perform a “strutting display”. Groups of females observe these displays and select the most attractive males to mate with.
Only a few males do most of the breeding. Males perform on leks for several hours in the early morning and evening during the spring months.
Leks are generally open areas adjacent to dense sagebrush stands, and the same lek may be used by grouse for decades.
The numbers of this species are declining due to loss of habitat; their range has shrunk in historical times.
However, though petitions have been made to list the Gunnison Grouse under the Endangered Species Act, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has refused to list them.