Not even COVID can shut this Spring Show Down

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.

The Greater Prairie Chicken males gather on a lek each Spring during the mating season. They spin in circles, stomp their feet rapidly, leap in the air, inflate orange air sacks on their necks, raise feathers on their heads, and fight with other males all in the hopes of winning the attention of the females gathered nearby. Canon 1-D Mark IV + 500mm lens, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/1000. ©Stanley Buman. Winnetoon, NE
Sharp-tailed Grouse males gather on leks for the same purpose as the prairie chickens. They bend close to the ground, raise their pointed tails high in the air, inflate purplish-colored air sacks, and stamp their feet rapidly as they move around on the lek. Canon 1-D Mark II + 70-200mm lens and 1.4x Teleconverter at 200mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/200. ©Stanley Buman. Calamus Outfitters by Burwell, NE
The Greater Sage-Grouse are the largest of the three birds. They fan out their tails, puff out their white chest feathers and inflate and deflate yellow air sacks on their necks, making loud popping sounds. Canon 1-D Mark II + 500mm lens, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/400. ©Stanley Buman. Green River, WY

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.

2 thoughts on “Not even COVID can shut this Spring Show Down”

    1. Don, you are correct. All three images are from previous years. I was hoping to go out west again this Spring but had two full weeks of travel for work and family that messed up my plans. Maybe next year.

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