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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

BirdNote®: Sage Grouse Lek and Grasslands

Air Date: Week of

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The greater Sage Grouse performing its famous mating display. (Photo: Randy Kokesch)

Springtime brings spectacular courtship dances by the male Greater Sage Grouse, which sings a remarkable song as it puffs up its two bulbous air sacs and moves its head back and forth in order to attract a mate. BirdNote’s Michael Stein reports on the bird’s curious practice called leks, and how Sage Hens are threatened by agricultural and energy development.

Transcript

[BIRDNOTE THEME]

CURWOOD: The Fish and Wildlife report concluded that pesticides can multiply the risks for species in decline. The Greater Sage Grouse is not listed as endangered but there’s just a fraction of them remaining in the wild as compared to a century ago. And as Bird Note’s Michael Stein reports, the Greater Sage Grouse is perhaps most well-known for its unique mating call and dance.

STEIN: Dawn breaks across the sagebrush country of the West on a brisk March morning.

[SAGE-GROUSE MALES PERFORMING]

Already, fifteen male Greater Sage-Grouse are strutting on their traditional display area, a sparsely vegetated arena amid the sage.

[SAGE-GROUSE MALES PERFORMING]

As the sun rises, meadowlarks begin to sing.

[WESTERN MEADOWLARK SONG]

And we can now see the Sage-Grouse clearly. The enormous males are over two feet long, and weigh six pounds. They stand bolt upright, their long tails fanned like a turkey’s tail, the dark backs and bellies contrasting sharply with their white breasts. When they display, the sage-grouse simultaneously scrape their wings back and forth against their flanks, expel air from twin, fleshy chest-sacs the size of tennis balls, and call softly. The resulting sound combines swishing, popping, and cooing.

[SOUNDS OF SAGE-GROUSE MALES PERFORMING ON LEK]

At the display area, known as a lek, the male Sage-Grouse perform for mating rights with the smaller females looking on.

[SOUNDS OF SAGE-GROUSE MALES PERFORMING ON LEK]


Female sage grouse often return to the same mate every year, leaving males without a partner, despite their flashy mating rituals. (Photo: Randy Kokesch)

As lands formerly covered in sage are converted to agriculture, so goes the fate of the magnificent Sage-Grouse. In some areas, the grouse have less than ten percent of their historical range.

[SOUNDS OF SAGE-GROUSE MALES PERFORMING ON LEK]

I’m Michael Stein.

CURWOOD: For photos of the Greater Sage Grouse strut on over to our website, LOE.ORG.

[Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology,
Ithaca, New York. Display sounds of the Greater Sage-Grouse recorded by G.A. Keller; call of the Western Meadowlark recorded by W.R. Fish
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2013 Tune In to Nature.org March 2013 Narrator: Michael Stein]

 

Links

BirdNote® | “Sage-Grouse Lek and Grasslands”

Audubon | “Greater Sage-Grouse”

 

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