A Sharp-tailed Grouse Viewing that will allow people to observe the birds' courtship activity will be held May 7.
At 6 a.m., participants will meet and board a bus at the USDA Forest Service Office, located at 1005 Fifth Ave. W. in Lemmon. At 6:45 a.m., the bus will arrive at the Grand River National Grasslands. Scheduled at 8 a.m. is a presentation by Dr. Benjamin Geaumont, North Dakota State University grouse researcher, followed by breakfast (on your ownâ at Summerville Store Caf. At 10:30 a.m., the bus will return to Lemmon, after which additional organized bird watching is offered.
Sharp-tailed grouse range from a wide swath of western North America from Alaska, through Canada clear down to Texas. There are six subspecies: Northern sharp-tailed grouse, Northwestern sharp-tailed grouse, Alaskan sharp-tailed grouse, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, Prairie sharp-tailed grouse and Plains sharp-tailed grouse. North Dakota and South Dakota are home to the Plains sharp-tailed grouse.
The courtship activity of the sharp-tailed grouse is an impressive performance. It is done on an area referred to as a lek or dancing ground, consisting of bare, grassy or sparse shrub land; it often occurs on a hill or rise in the ground. Young sharp-tail cocks begin to visit a lek with the adults in early fall; however the serious courtship activity begins as spring arrives, usually in late March. The same leks may be used year after year. The number of birds using leks varies depending on the population, but averages between eight and 12.
The birds arrive about 45 minutes before sunrise, each selecting a position on the lek. The morning activity usually lasts 3-4 hours. Neck sacks are inflated and the neck is stretched forward as a hooting or cooing sound is made. The wings are spread horizontally with tips curved downward.
The neck feathers are raised and the eyebrow expands nearly to the top of the crown. The tail is held in an erect fan, and is vibrated sideways. From this stance the cock rushes forward or goes into a circular motion with short, rapid, stamping steps, meanwhile vibrating the tail continuously.
Much of the activity in early spring consists of sparring and bluffing to resolve territory disputes. Hens congregate around the edge of the lek, acting nonchalant. Eventually, each hen walks among the performing birds, selects a male and mating occurs. The spring courtship activity period usually wanes by mid-May.
If you are interested in attending the Sharp-tailed Grouse Viewing call the Perkins County Extension Office at 605-244-5622 by April 28.