Sage Grouse Lek Visit

usfws sage grouse

Greater Sage Grouse. Photo by: USFWS

For several weeks, I have been trying to hitch along with various undergraduate ornithology and wildlife classes on their sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) lek field trips, but due to normal Wyoming surprises (AKA March and April blizzards) the trips have been postponed. Last weekend I finally got to check this amazing experience off of my Wyoming bucket list!

We woke up at 4:45 a.m. in order to meet our small caravan of undergrads, grad students, and professors by 5:30 a.m. But I was so excited I could barely sleep. The weather was surprisingly not freezing, and the sunrise was beautiful. By 6:30 a.m. we arrived at the lek. After getting out of the car, I could already hear the “plopping” sounds that accompany the elaborate strutting display of the greater sage grouse!

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Because of their mating system, male sage grouses strut their stuff with the hopes of winning over a female, and females assess the display to choose the best male.

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Through a spotting scope– females assessing male displays.

We quietly crawled on our elbows and knees to the edge of a small ridge to avoid scaring off the sage grouse. In the distance, I could see the birds– set against a beautiful backdrop of pronghorn and snowy mountains. I held up my binoculars and could not contain a short squeal of disbelief. Pointed, splayed tail feathers, strutting through the sagebrush, puffed out white chests, and most exciting of all — the plopping together of twin yellow throat sacs. I could hear avocets nearby. I felt like I was in a BBC documentary!

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Our lookout point.

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Avocets.

Through a spotting scope, I was able to take a short clip of the mating ritual (visit our Instagram page @Dantaact for more awesome photos and videos):

After an hour or so, we headed back to Laramie. But first we had a short visit from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worker who told us a bit about his job surveying various Wyoming leks to determine accurate sage grouse counts. This is especially important in light of recent policy to remove the bird from the Endangered Species Act.

Learn more about sage grouse here.

Sagebrush Ecosystem Poster_dpi

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