Sage Grouse and a “March Madness”

By Dave Hanks

I know the location of a SAGE GROUSE lek (strutting area). These skittish birds are difficult to approach, and thus require extra planning and preparation to get near them.

My wife and I, one March evening, drove to the lek in our truck/camper. I set up my portable blind on the strutting area and retired for the night. At 4:30 A.M., I entered the blind to wait until dawn. There must be no disturbance when the birds arrive. It was quite cold and uncomfortable, but my anticipation was great.

Soon after entering the blind, the birds came in. I could hear them “booming” all around me even though it was still too dark to see them. The sun finally came up, and there they were, practically at my feet. I could see many “white ruffs” randomly spaced over a large area. Sometimes, adjacent males would come together to display to each other. This was especially true if a hen happened to arrive in their proximity. I excitedly shot 3 ½ rolls of film. Finally, a curious Pronghorn came running up to inspect the blind, staring right into my camera, and that scared the grouse away. Thus, ending a very productive morning.

This large bird, with two yellow air sacs encased in a white bib, fans his tail and struts – making bubbling, popping sounds. Courtship takes place in March and very early April, but the prime time is late March. The leks seem to be situated where the sage is less dense. Sage is not only protective, but is also an important food source. The hen lays a large clutch of eggs that, when hatched, yield precocial chicks (well developed, feathered, able to run, and to feed themselves).

Current populations are struggling to survive because of decreasing habitat.