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Counting Prairie Chickens and Sharp-Tailed Grouse

Published: May. 2, 2021 at 5:48 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has partnered with the University of North Dakota to count prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse near Grand Forks.

University Of North Dakota biology students are keeping tabs on an intriguing, yet declining population of prairie chickens in Grand Forks county.

“They’re going to all the historical leks in a three-year rotating program to look for prairie chickens. And they’ve also agreed to take on our sharp-tail census blocks,” said NDGF upland game supvervisor Jesse Kolar.

Kolar said this is the third year UND biology students have been conducting surveys in Grand Forks county, and it’s not unusual to see prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse dancing on the same lek.

“One is a partnership with North Dakota Game and Fish, which I think is a valuable thing. But another really important part is assisting us in training the next generation of wildlife professionals. The students get valuable experience actually out here, counting birds, tallying up the data and helping to communicate that back to the North Dakota Game and Fish,” said UND associate professor of wildlife ecology Susan Feliege.

In mid-March is when students drive near the breeding grounds, get out every half mile, and listen for prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse dancing.

“On the 1st of April, they actually go back to all the places where they’ve located these dancing grounds or booming grounds for the chickens or the sharp-tails and they’ll count them,” said Feliege.

Felige said students are in awe when they listen and watch the birds dance for the first time.

“It’s been educational, I would say I’ve been learning a lot, I didn’t know anything about prairie chickens or sharp-tails before I started this. I know how they behave, how they do their fancy dance to attract their mates. And so, that’s been very cool,” said UND biology student Amalie Joergensen.

Male prairie chickens dancing and displaying are certainly fun to watch and listen to.

“They have these cool pinnae feathers or feathers that are right about where their ears would be that come up, and the males will have that stand up. And then you see these big, beautiful orange glowing almost air sacs right on their neck. And then what they do, they’ll have their tail up and much more fanned than a sharp-tail,” said Feliege.

This research helps maintain a long tradition of upland game surveys.

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