Sharp-tailed grouse perform annual mating dance rituals

Published: Apr. 25, 2020 at 7:04 PM CDT
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In this week's segment of North Dakota Outdoors Mike Anderson takes us to a sharp-tailed grouse dancing ground, also known as a lek.

State Game and Fish Department upland game biologists attend an age-old dance every spring that features sharp-tailed grouse performing their annual mating rituals.

"Every April we come out and we do our prairie grouse spring lek counts just basically to see how our population is doing coming out of the winter. It's our only specific prairie grouse survey that we do," said NDGF Upland Game Biologist, RJ Gross.

Biologists have counted sharp-tailed grouse for decades in an effort to come up with a population trend.

"We have 25 active routes spread across state. We do it in blocks. It's not traditionally like, you know, our upland surveys which are roadside. These we have to get off the road to get to where the grouse are. And it's basically a township block. And we have 25 of those spread across state that we're actively counting right now," said Gross.

And if you've never been to a sharp-tailed grouse dancing ground, or lek, you're missing out.

"Their mating display is a dance that they do, it's a type of dance. Only the males do it. And that's to attract the females and at a lek it's basically hierarchy. The middle is where the females will go. The closer to the middle is where the more dominant males are. And those satellite males will be out and around and you'll see that the dominant males will chase off the satellite males and every now and again, you'll get a young one that's brave and tried to go to the middle and he'll get chased out," said Gross.

Gross says the annual counts rely on partnerships with private landowners.

"We develop relationships with these landowners. This particular block that we are at today, we've been doing it for 60 plus years. So ultimately, it's a lot of landowner/Game and Fish relations. We ask for permission every year to make sure we can come out and do it. Most landowners are very appreciative that we come out and actually do it," said Gross.