Sharp-Tailed Grouse Mating Ritual Dance
On the lek even before day broke the air was filled with the music of the grouse making a chirping/gobble sound through their beaks/throats, a cooing with their colorful air sacs, and rattling their tail feathers. Their steps had a windup toy quality, with extended wings they would dance over the lek for several seconds at the same time as making their music. Then all fell silent and they froze in position for another several seconds before the dance and the music resumed again. This may have been going on all night but it certainly could be heard well before dawn.
Males frequently will face-off with each other at times erupting into skirmishes. Females come to the lek to mate and are courted by the males but do not return to the lek again after mating.
Males air sacs and feathers on their heads are brightly colored as seen in the photographs during breeding season but for the rest of the year male and female are hard to distinguish.
A lek is a traditional place where grouse meet to mate and perform this ritual year after year on undisturbed, dry, open prairie land. It can be used for years or even decades and is a very sensitive environment. These shots were taken in the middle of May with over 20 males present and several females. The ritual can begin in March and tapers off in the end of April to beginning of May in Southern Alberta.
mating ritualsharptailed grousegrousebirdcourtship