Birdwatching: Sage Grouse

Sage grouse are famous for being show-offs with their flashy mating rituals.


| January 2014



Sage Grouse

The mating rituals of the sage grouse feature a furious dance-off between rival males.


Photo courtesy Lyons Press

Taken from the birding adventures of professional wildlife biologist and photographer Budd Titlow, Bird Brains (Lyons Press, 2013) looks at the antics, behaviors, and funny idiosyncrasies of wild birds. Each entry is another tale pulled from hours of birdwatching, where the personality of the various species of birds are on full display. Notorious show-offs, Sage Grouse are the subject of this passage, excerpted from Section 4, "Rocky Mountain Ramblings."

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Bird Brains.

Sage Grouse — Happy Hour on the High Plains

Sometimes Mother Nature provides a perfect microcosm of human life.

Many years ago, I was invited to observe an annual ritual that had all the elements of happy hour at your favorite neighborhood bar. Totally full of themselves, all the males were strutting around in tight circles with their hairless chests puffed out. As they walked, they repeatedly made burping and belching sounds while aggressively posturing toward any other males that came too close to their domains. Meanwhile, all of the females skittered demurely in, out, around, and through all of the absurdly displaying males — acting as if the showboats didn’t exist.

Rather than watching patrons in a dark, after-work bar, I was driving along a Colorado high mountain sagebrush prairie at sunrise next to a “lek,” which is, appropriately enough, the Swedish word for “play.” And the clientele I was observing were chicken-sized wild birds known as sage grouse.

The largest grouse in North America, sage grouse live on the high plains of the American West — at elevations of four thousand to nine thousand feet — including populations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nevada, Utah, eastern California, and western Colorado.





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