Sharp-tailed Grouse Dancing
As many of you know, some of the best animal shows are not found at SeaWorld or Barnum and Baileys Circus, but right here in North Dakota. There are few shows that can match the excitement, sights and sounds of male sharp-tailed grouse strutting their stuff for the ladies on their spring dancing grounds. Every North Dakotan should take in this show at least once in their lifetime.
The males will be strutting their stuff on the dancing grounds roughly from April through May. These dancing grounds, or what biologists call leks, are often found on relatively level upland prairie with good views across the landscape. The males, up to perhaps a couple dozen, will congregate on these dancing grounds in hopes they can convince the observing hens that they have the best dance moves. The better dancers win, of course, and have better genetics to ensure the vigor of the next generation of sharp-tailed grouse.
The dancing males have their wings extended, heads low and stretched out, tail pointed upward, and their lavender throat sacks inflated. In this posture they will vocalize, and stomp the ground while moving forward or perhaps turning. As you might expect, the competition is intense, and of course the stakes are high. Now that is some dance competition!
Much of the dancing is done around dawn. If there is a dancing ground within perhaps a half-a-mile or so from your home, if you listen carefully around dawn, you may hear what sounds like the sounds of muffled jackhammers and some clucking and squawking. That is probably the males dancing on their dancing grounds.
If you cannot get a look at some local sharp-tailed grouse on their dancing grounds you might want to contact one of the national wildlife refuges. Some of them have observation blinds for the public to get out and watch the grouse. Watch for announcements in the newspaper.
If you cannot get out and see the real thing, Cornell University’s All About Birds website has an excellent video. Click here to view a video of sharp-tailed grouse on their dancing grounds.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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