sagebrush country

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Fun Fact Friday: How Do You Survive in the Big Empty? These Lagomorphs Use Superpower Adaptations, of Course.

By Nancy Patterson, Public Affairs Specialist, Greater Sage-Grouse Rocky Mountain Region

It’s wide open in the Big Empty of sagebrush country. For the more than 350 species that live here, hiding spots are few and horizons are long. When you’re a favorite food of lots of predators you need special adaptations to survive. Lagomorphs are adaptation champs in this ecosystem. The term lagomorph describes mammals in the order of lagomorpha, better known as hares, rabbits, and pikas. In sagebrush country, some lagomorphs you might see are jackrabbits, cottontails, and pygmy rabbits.

Rabbits and hares have big eyes set on the sides of their heads. This gives them a wide viewpoint to look around for threats. Their large ears act like giant microphones to capture the slightest sound. And their long back feet act as a speedy superpower. With them they can spring into the air and dart quickly in a jig-jag pattern to escape predators. Jackrabbits can run at speeds of 40 miles per hour and their powerful hind legs can propel them in 10-foot leaps with each bound. Imagine trying to keep up with one of these athletic racers!

But, it’s tough to survive on big feet, eyes, and ears alone. It also helps to have superpower hiding adaptations. And rabbits and hares have some that act just like invisibility cloaks.

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Fun Fact Friday: A Natural Winter Windbreak in Sagebrush

Story By Nancy Patterson, Public Affairs Specialist, Greater Sage-Grouse Rocky Mountain Region; Photos by Nancy Patterson (BLM), Lisa Marks (BLM), and Tom Koerner (USFWS)

It’s blizzarding in sagebrush country! Negative temperatures, snowfall, and winds pull together for a threatening whiteout. What are wildlife to do out in the Big Empty to protect themselves from winter weather conditions? Let sagebrush come to the rescue!

While black-tailed prairie dogs hide out in their burrows during snowstorms and horned lizards move into hibernation, many of sagebrush country’s more than 350 species depend on lucky breaks among the shrubs for food and shelter.

Sagebrush have a long tap root, which helps secure it to the ground and draw water and nutrients from the soil. These nutrients enter the plant and some transpose to wildlife that eat their ever-verdant leaves. Mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and Greater sage-grouse all depend on this food source in winter months.

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Fun Fact Friday: Low on Calcium? Chew on This

Story By Nancy Patterson, Public Affairs Specialist, BLM’s Greater Sage-Grouse Rocky Mountain Region

What made this highway of tiny tracks? Where are they going? Wait! What’s that sticking up out of the snow? It’s an antler! But what’s an antler doing in the Big Empty? You might think it’d just be a cool decoration for your house. But this antler is a crucial source of nutrients for small animals of sagebrush country.

Antlers grow on members of the cervidae, or deer, family. Except for caribou, only males grow antlers. In the sagebrush ecosystem, two of the cervidae you may see are mule deer and elk. Deer antlers are made of bone, extend from their skull, and fall off every year. Young males typically grow spikes and single-pronged antlers. As the buck or bull ages, their antlers grow in mass and more tines develop.

It take a lot of energy and calcium to grow a set of antlers. All summer long in the high country deer graze on vitamin-rich vegetation, which gives them the strength they need to produce their annual antlers. The developing antlers are very tender. They’re covered in velvet, which provides protection and nutrients to the growing bones. As fall approaches, the bone hardens and the velvet gets itchy. Deer rub it off on branches to polish them for the rut, their mating season. With their handsome set of antlers, bull elk and buck mule deer are ready to display their might and prowess to competing males and attract the attention of doe deer and cow elk.

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Fun Fact Friday: To Migrate or To Staycation? Sagebrush is a Great Home for These Birds

By Nancy Patterson, Public Affairs Specialist, Greater Sage-Grouse Rocky Mountain Region

Brrr! It’s getting cold out in northern sagebrush country! With snow beginning to fall, animals are on the move. Like Greater sage-grouse, more than 350 species call this place home, but some only spend part of the year here and others stay year-round.

Many birds head south. Sage thrashers and Brewer’s sparrows fly to the warmer southern United States and Mexico. Swainson’s Hawks left months ago, gathered into kettles of tens of thousands of birds to travel all the way to Argentina for the winter months. Imagine doing a round-trip trek of more than 12,000 miles from South America to northern North America each year like these world travelers do!

For some, the sagebrush landscape is their favorite winter resting spot. All summer Rough-legged hawks spent in the Arctic tundra. Their journey south brings some of them to the western sagebrush landscape. You might see them perched on utility poles, transmission lines, fence posts, and other high ground throughout the winter months.

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