PBS Program Chronicles Sage Grouse and Other Inhabitants of the Sagebrush Sea

| 5/19/2015 10:01:00 AM

Sage Grouse

WNET Thirteen’s new Nature episode, “The Sagebrush Sea,” tracks the Greater Sage Grouse and other wildlife through the seasons as they struggle to survive in a rugged and changing landscape. The program airs Wednesday, May 20, at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings) and will be available for streaming after the broadcast on the PBS website.

If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to make your way to the sagebrush steppes of the western U.S. during sage grouse mating season, you probably will consider the experience one of the highlights of your life. For pure theatricality and showmanship, a male sage grouse vying for female attention is hard to beat. They puff and pop and practically dance their handsome feathers off in a stiff competition to show to the females gathered on the lek (a sagebrush-ringed clearing) that they, not those other puny chickens, should be fathers of the next generation.

The heck of it is, it works. By some set of criteria known only to the ladies of the lek, one or two males get thumbs, er, claws up and they – and only they – are allowed to breed that season. How the remaining males deal with this disappointment is unknown, though it’s suspected they play a lot of video games in their parents’ basement and troll strangers on the Internet.

Fighting Sage Grouses 

What even the gallant grouse who win female approval can’t do, however, is stop the plummeting population of greater sage grouse in the immense sea of sagebrush sometimes called “The Big Empty” (or, if you’re Tom Petty, “The Great Wide Open”). Two hundred years or so ago, as many as 16 million sage grouse could be found in this sagebrush sea. Now, their numbers have diminished to fewer than 200,000.

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