Elk NetworkSage Grouse Eat Dirt?

General | February 7, 2019

Why do sage grouse eat dirt? Inquiring minds want to know.

Several biologists from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department joined personnel from the Pinedale Bureau of Land Management office, the Teton Raptor Center and Utah State Master’s Student, Scott Fox, to capture sage grouse and fit them with GPS transmitters recently. The research is being conducted to learn more about what drives a relatively recent discovery of sage grouse congregating to eat dirt, a behavior scientifically labeled as geophagy.

Researchers recently captured and marked about 30 birds this winter, which brings the total number of marked birds to around 50. Most of the study birds are on the Pinedale Mesa south of Pinedale, with some others being east of highway 191 south of Boulder and others west of the Green River and south of Daniel.

Preliminary information has shown up to 50 or more birds, both male and female, congregating at some locations almost daily. Early soil test results from the sites are somewhat variable, but generally have shown elevated levels of most minerals, including sodium, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. It does stand to reason the birds are seeking out some mineral(s) in the soil. It is possible the birds are looking to supplement their diet in preparation for breeding and egg-laying.

(Photo source: Wyoming Game & Fish Department)