W Mountain Infested with Sage Grouse

Late summer rainbow at the San Juan Horseshoe World Headquarters at Colona, Colorado (photo by DeLinda Austin)

(Gunnison) 8625-foot Tenderfoot Mountain has been invaded by hordes of endangered Gunnison Sage Grouse, a species that has inhabited the region long before the arrival of modern man. Most of the birds, who experts insist are hiding from well-intentioned environmentalists, are clumped together around and under the giant “W” that graces the peak.


The birds have seen their population fall from some 16 million in 1812 to only 200,000 today. Respected as wild things and as a source of food by the Ute, the birds have become victims of human encroachment and now have been recognized as endangered, a status not conferred on the above mentioned tribe.
Unreliable sources contend that no such occupation problems have been reported on nearby Signal Peak, Green Mountain, Flat Top, or on Cooper Mountain. Local residents say the birds will leave in the autumn when the W is lit on fire according to age-old Homecoming tradition at Western.Tenderfoot Mountain and the W, the largest college emblem in the world (or was that the largest collegiate emblem above 8000 feet?)  by virtue of links with higher learning, have been spared the impact of grazing, geo-thermal exploration and subdivisions . Not to be confused with 11,444-foot Tenderfoot Mountain in Summit County, this spot may be seen by grouse as a last stand or at least  safe haven for the present.

“Around here we don’t call 8600-foot no mountain,” said Clyde Colon, who spoke without clearance or encouragement from anyone. “It’s more of a big hill but it’s the 2587th highest peak in the state and we cannot have this bird inundation messing with our cherished landmarks. I say let’s send some of those idle administrators from the college up there to run them out. Maybe they can increase enrollment at the same time.”

To complicate matters the Gunnison Sage Grouse is known for elaborate courtship rituals which can be observed by field biologists in the early morning and early evening when the lek (breeding ground) comes alive in mass proportions. The males of the species strut around for a while then copulate with any willing female and nesting follows. Many potential aves voyeurs have been turned away by Friends of the Sage Grouse, an armed  paramilitary group that has set up daily patrols at the bottom of the peak. Sadly some have slipped through the lines and threaten to distract the birds from the mating business at hand.

“They are up there strutting around, partying all night, every night and in the morning too. They’re having an orgy and the authorities do nothing,” said Colon. “What if children happened by? It’s all out in the open with no discretion whatsoever. If it wasn’t for these fancy rituals nobody with pay them a tinker’s damn.”

The ground foraging Gunnison Sage Grouse (Centrocercus minimus), a smaller, more intelligent grouse, has been recognized as a species distinct from the Greater (than what?) Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) which is the largest in North America. Both nest on the ground, and eat copious  amounts of sagebrush as well as a whatever insects might be hanging out. The Gunnison Sage Grouse is considered to be far advanced in matters of winter survival techniques and general thermodynamics.

– Melvin Toole, Science Editor

Filed Under: Lifestyles at Risk

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