A Sage Grouse Tale

by Dave Hanks\


Oh how I wish I was cute! How I wish I was clever –
	Enough to cause “chuckles” at my endeavor.
	I would write an ode, I would write a poem,
	About photographing Sage Grouse in their desert home. 

	So I’ll try once more. I’ll try again,
	To tell a grouse tale with paper and pen.
	I needed those grouse – needed their pictures “by gum”,
	And I knew just the place where there might be some.

	So I journey out west, where there’s nary a tree,
	To the Low Sage Plateau with my wife’s company.
	In the evening we went to that wide open space,
	Cause before it gets light, I must be in place.

	Set up my blind by that rock over there.
	Enter at 4:30 AM, with time to spare -
	To be in place before the sun has “riz”,
	And not “spook” the birds. It’s a touchy “biz”.

	In the blind in the dark. I freeze my “butt”,
	But all around I can hear those Sage Grouse strut.
	They boom and they flutter – Their wings beat the air,
	But I’m safely “tucked in” and glad to be where –

	I can get “close-ups” when it finally gets light.
	I can get good photos. They should be alright!
	In time the sun obliged, and “Oh what a sight”!
	Those grouse were strutting – They didn’t take flight!

	There they were, right under my feet.
	Man they were close and that was so “sweet”.
	I shot frame after frame. That I did.
	It was hard to stop. Of that I don’t “kid”.
	
	But a curious Pronghorn seemed out of his mind.
	Bounded right up to look into my blind.
	So off the birds flew. Flew off in their “glory”.
	But I got good pictures – That’s the end of this story!

(Yellow eye brows and air sacs – White ruff and erect tail feathers)

Mating Behaviors in Birds

The most common system for most birds is to control and defend a large TERRITORY where all needs (mating, nesting, and feeding) are met, and territories are vigorously defended. Another type is found among highly social birds such as herons, cormorants, and pelicans. Birds that nest in a ROOKERY do their mating and nesting in a space immediately around the nest. Aggression is confined to a much smaller area.

Perhaps the most unusual of all is LEK (arena) behavior. Lek is a Swedish word that means to play – or in other words a playground. Males do not involve themselves in the raising of their offspring. They gather to an established arena where they show off their attributes by displaying them. Prairie Chickens, Sharp-Tailed Grouse, and Sage Grouse are some species that perform in a Lek. All aggression and mating takes place there, as outside the arena there is no sex drive or aggression exhibited. Probably the competition stimulates the production of testosterone. Males will establish a hierarchy with the preferred positions in the center of the lek – lesser males will be found around the periphery. Females will then arrive to witness all the strutting and male interaction and then make a selection of a mate that fits her choice for specific traits; such as vigor, color, dominance, etc.

A modification of arena behavior is the group display of Wild Turkeys and Great-Tailed Grackles. By displaying in a group, the attraction stimulus to females is greater. Perhaps it’s like a choir where individual choir members would make poor soloists, but their deficiencies are masked by the group effort. However, there is dominance within a group display as only the dominant male will actually do the mating. Lesser males evidently receive stimulation through the display itself.

Wild Turkeys displaying cooperatively) in a grassy pasture like enviornment

Wild Turkeys displaying cooperatively)