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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote®: Sharp-tailed Grouse On a Lek

Air Date: Week of

Two grouse tango. (Photo: Daniel Arndt)

Male sharp-tailed grouse are among the few bird species that use communal mating dances to attract females. In today’s BirdNote®, Michael Stein describes the birds’ display and explains why the leks where they gather to dance are becoming more scarce.


CURWOOD: We stick with the great outdoors for today’s BirdNote – in particular the wide open prairie before the dawn’s early light. Here’s Michael Stein.

Sharp-tailed Grouse on a Lek

[Display sounds of male Sharp-tailed Grouse]
It’s before dawn, this April morning, on a North Dakota prairie. Sitting quietly near a rise of ground, we begin to hear eerie whoops and cackling. [display sounds of Sharp-tailed Grouse] And then what sound like little motors running. [“motor” sounds made by the rattling of tail feathers while stomping very rapidly]
At first light, we see the source of this otherworldly chorus: male Sharp-tailed Grouse performing their elaborate mating dances. The size of small chickens, they dance on a matted patch of ground called a lek. Together, they’re stomping their feet, extending their wings, and zipping around the lek. Then, at the same instant, they stop – stock-still. All this to impress the female grouse observing from the sidelines.

[Mating display sounds of Sharp-tailed Grouse]

This wondrous, strange display is rare. Throughout the world, very few species of birds, perhaps fewer than 100, use leks when breeding.

With oil and gas drilling and the conversion of grasslands to agriculture, habitat for Sharp-tailed Grouse is becoming scarcer and more fragmented.

[brief cooing]

Sharp-tailed grouse. (Photo: Daniel Arndt)

This morning, the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota gives our birds a place to reenact their ancient ritual and begin the cycle of their lives anew.
I’m Michael Stein.
[Mating display sounds of Sharp-tailed Grouse]
Written by Todd Peterson
From a Conversation with Gerrit Vyn
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Mating display sounds of male Sharp-tailed Grouse [141142] recorded by Gerrit Vyn.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2005-2018 Tune In to Nature.org April 2018 Narrator: Michael Stein

Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, http://www.fws.gov/lostwood/lostwoodnwr.htm

CURWOOD: For some photos -- stomp on over to our website, loe dot org.



Listen on the BirdNote® Website

More on the Sharp-tailed Grouse


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