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Conservation at its best!

So this is going to be a quick one! This morning was exciting because I got to go out and do an aerial survey for sage-grouse! Conser...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Greater Sage-Grouse are out!!

This is my third year and I still get exited every time I see male sage-grouse strutting on a lek (or breeding site). The males congregate early in the morning at locations that tend to be more open (less shrubs/sagebrush) than the surrounding area.

From far away it can be hard to tell if an area looks like a lek unless there are birds on it.
Photo credit: Beth Fitzpatrick, 2014.

Often roads are used as leks. Photo credit: Katie Zarn, 2012

 And they do a little dance on a small territory that they have claimed and will fight for that spot.
Photo Credit: Sage Grouse Initiative
 Males fan out their tail feathers and inflate and deflate two yellow air sacs. They use these air sacs to make a noise that sounds like a drop of water in an empty bucket. It is pretty amazing how loud that sound can be when there is no wind (when is there no wind in Wyoming? Some early mornings).

Peak season is when the most females and males attend the leks and that is occurring right now. The most females we saw was about 7 at one lek. So the females come to the lek, and check all the males out. They will all pick the same one or few males to breed with and then it is off to lay their eggs. And the males will continue to lek until about mid-May. If a females' nest fails (they aren't fertilized, eaten by predators, or the female abandons the nest for any reason) she may try to re-nest.

The females find a nice shrub, usually a sagebrush to nest under. They lay between 6 - 13 eggs. The chicks are precocial (which means that they are pretty self sufficient from the time they hatch).
Photo credit: Katie Zarn, 2012

They will stay with their mom or another adult female for most of the summer. When they are first hatched they eat a lot of insects and then slowly their diet changes to plant material... And you guessed it; they eat a lot of sagebrush!!

These are cool birds! They do some weird stuff and it is just neat to see. Watching wildlife perform natural behaviors is great and when you are outside long enough or a lot, you get a chance to see these behaviors. Sometimes you spy a creature before it notices you and you can observe unique behaviors. For birds, the males tend to be prettier and sing for the ladies and sage-grouse are no different. But they go above and beyond. It's like going to a dance. Except its a group of guys out on the dance floor and the girls watching by the sidelines to figure out who is the best dancer.

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