Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Wildland Resources

Committee Chair(s)

R. Douglas Ramsey


R. Douglas Ramsey


Terry A. Mesmer


Eugene W. Schupp


In wildlife management, using cutting edge technology and science to monitor greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; sage-grouse) populations, enables land managers to better assess the impact of their management decisions. Having precise counts of sage-grouse lek attendance, and specifically male lek attendance, is an important metric used to evaluate population status and response to conservation actions (Gifford, 2013, Dahlgren et al., 2016). Leks are seasonal breeding sites where males perform a ritualistic courtship dance for females.

Our case study examined if a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) was effective in detecting, and counting, sage-grouse during the lek season (early March to late April). More specifically, this research used a Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera (a thermal camera) to detect sage-grouse and determine body temperatures of individual sage-grouse to determine if temperature data can be used to identify displaying male sage-grouse. These images can be used to document the activity and behavior of sage-grouse and can be revisited at future times to document changes in bird numbers as well as perform additional statistical analyses.

We conducted 5 flights and on a per-flight basis, we identified an average of 4.4 displaying males, 13.4 non-displaying males, and 5.6 female sage-grouse. We found that the average size and average maximum temperature of the three sage-grouse categories differed where females were smaller with an average body size of 325 cm2, an average maximum temperature of 14.6 C°, and a smaller average thermal range of 2.47 C°. Non-displaying male body size was approximately 488cm2, with a maximum average temperature of 17.2 C°, and an average thermal range of 4.66C°. Displaying male body size was the largest at approximately 655cm2, an average maximum temperature of 27.5C°, with the largest average range of 12.39C°. Our study demonstrates that RPA and infrared technology can be used to conduct accurate sage-grouse lek attendance counts. Further, results of this study will also provide a guideline for the use of RPA’s to monitor sage-grouse and other lekking species.