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Sage grouse male displays on lek. Photo by Rick McEwan.
Have you ever seen a sage grouse strut? Located on a breeding ground called a lek, male birds puff out their chests, pop their air sacs, and fan their tail feathers every morning in the spring to impress hens.
On public land in some states, it’s possible to watch the intimate details of the sage grouse’s unique mating ritual from a distance (so you don’t disturb the birds or damage their habitat). You might also see other wildlife such as mule deer, elk, and eagles near a lek at dawn!
If you aim to get out and see the amazing spring dance, the Sage Grouse Initiative offers the following ‘dos and don’ts’ for respectful wildlife viewing.
Tips for Seeing Sage Grouse Dance
- Go on a tour or to a public site to minimize disturbance to birds, such as Idaho’s Dubois Grouse Days, watchable wildlife sites in Colorado, April lek viewing tours in Nevada, Oregon or Utah, or leks listed in this Wyoming Fish and Game guide.
- Late April is the best time to visit since most breeding is complete, but males are still actively strutting.
- Arrive at the lek at least one hour before sunrise in the dark.
- Don’t drive on or near the lek and park away from the edge of the lek.
- Turn off the engine and lights and stay in your vehicle.
- Use binoculars and spotting scopes to observe birds.
- Don’t make loud noises or sudden movements.
- Don’t leave the lek site until the birds do.
- Keep your pets in the vehicle or, better yet, leave them at home.
- Don’t trespass on private land.
- Postpone your visit if roads are muddy.
Viewers take care to observe respectful viewing techniques when visiting sensitive sage grouse mating leks. Photo by Brianna Randall.
Landscape-Scale Sagebrush Conservation Partnership
Male sage grouse have danced at leks across their 173 million-acre, 11-state range for hundreds of thousands of years. The birds once occupied more than 290 million acres of sagebrush in the West, but the bird has lost more than half of its range due to habitat loss and fragmentation from development, noxious weeds and fire. The sagebrush West is home to more than 350 species of plants and animals, and is the largest, mostly intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states.
The NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative has joined dozens of local groups, state and federal agencies, and thousands of private landowners to launch an unprecedented, landscape-scale conservation effort in sagebrush country, a western ecosystem that supports iconic wildlife, outdoor recreation, ranching and other traditional land uses. This collaborative effort has significantly reduced threats to the greater sage-grouse across 90 percent of the species’ rangeland breeding habitat.
Learn more about sage grouse mating: “What The Heck Is A Lek?”