The Courtship ritual of the Sharptail Grouse and Prairie Chickens

Posted by on Mar 2, 2015 in Blog | Comments Off on The Courtship ritual of the Sharptail Grouse and Prairie Chickens

Each year on the Sandhills of Nebraska, thousands of bird watchers and tourists are treated the grassland dance – the courtship ritual of the Sharptail Grouse and Prairie Chickens.

The courtship ritual is a charged display of gobbling, hooting, dancing, strutting, inflating air sacs; it has been called, amazing, stunning, an “unforgettable display in nature” and covered by media from the east coast to the west.

The annual prairie chicken mating dance isn’t reserved for dedicated bird watchers. Starting as early as February and running through March, thousands of birders and tourists flock to the Sandhills to see the mating dance unfold in front of them. Drawn by the sheer energy of the event and the amazing spectacle of nature, visitors go out of their way to get a firsthand look of one of nature’s “unforgettable displays.”

The prairie chicken mating dance takes place on an area called a lek where male birds stake their ground, intimidate other males and attract the hens. The dancing, booming, strutting is designed to gain the attention of the females and send the signal to the other males to move on. Food stomping, erect tail feathers, inflating neck sacs, it’s a ritual developed over time to guarantee the survival of the species.

Birders and tourists are fortunate the grassland dance takes place in a central, and very accessible location. While the area is monitored during the grassland dance to keep viewers from disrupting the activity, the local economy has developed and tours and lodging are widely available.

Bird watching, and especially at natural wonders like the spring grassland dance, is becoming something of a national pastime. Today, there are more than 50 million people in the United States who identify themselves as birders. And why not? It’s a simple hobby to get involved in – get a decent field guide and a set of binoculars – but an impossible hobby to master. Even an avid birder with resources and time will only see a fraction of the 10,000 species of birds on the earth in any given year.

The grassland dance, for avid birders, tourists and people new to the birding world, is a “must see” event that takes place in an area uniquely accommodating to the Sharptail Grouse and Prairie Chickens.

The Sandhills of Nebraska are only about 20,000 square miles of grassland but millions of birds migrate through the area traveling the North Central Flyway. The North Central Flyway stretches through the middle of the country from North Dakota to Texas and is one of the four major flyways in the United States. Each flyway stretches from north to south offering migratory species the food, water, shelter and habitable land needed for a specie’s winter feeding and summer breeding.