One of my favorite grade school memories was watching wildlife movies in class. My most vivid recollections are the movies showcasing several species in the grouse family; specifically Greater Prairie Chickens, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and Greater Sage Grouse during the Spring mating season. Any wildlife documentary was far more interesting than anything else I was supposed to learn in school.
My bucket list of things to see started at an early age. I knew back then that I would have to personally witness the Spring rituals of grouse families. Let’s just say that my memories did not disappoint. And the “live” performances are better than the movies.
The dancing ground where all of the activity takes place is called a lek. The males and females gather daily, well before it begins to get light. You can usually hear them well before you can see them. The males face off to determine dominance. Sometimes, it is just posturing; other times the feathers are flying. Occasionally, it can get quite bloody. When not fighting, there is also the inflation of air sacks on their necks and the dancing on the lek grounds. It is a great spectacle to see and hear.
The females hang out on the outskirts of the lek, scouting out the best mate. The activity wains a couple of hours after sunrise. Sometimes, there is limited activity in the evening. But, the best shows are generally in the morning.
Images of the grouse species on their leks cannot do justice to explaining the show they put on. The sounds made by the males greatly add to the drama. There are plenty of videos of these birds in action on YouTube. But I encourage you to witness the activity in-person on a cold crisp Spring morning.