Missouri Coteau, SK (Photo by NCC)

Missouri Coteau, SK (Photo by NCC)

A sage courtship

Sage-grouse (Photo by Gordon Court)

Sage-grouse (Photo by Gordon Court)

Ever wonder about the courtship of a greater sage grouse? Although it's probably not top of mind, the sophisticated courtship ritual of this species is both colourful and demonstrative...and chances are, you could catch a glimpse of it if you visit some rural natural areas in southern Saskatchewan. The early spring courtship routine of this species invites even the most oblivious of us to stop and quietly watch in wonder.

The demonstrative dance

By mid-February or early March each year, as the snow melts and the grassy knolls and sagebrush reappear, so does the flamboyant courting ritual of the sage grouse. In open areas suitable as strutting grounds for this species, males stomp and pound their feet, issuing drumming sounds with their yellowish-green chest air sacs. They dance on grounds known as leks, displaying colourful plumage and extravagant movements, all in efforts to entice interested sage grouse hens.

Long being a subject of fascination and research, this endangered species continues to charm. Although it is noted the best male dancers, those holding the central or core spot in the lek, are generally those most attractive to sage grouse hens, this single-minded effort places the species in additional peril during mating season. But the impact of their presence continues as we watch — in awe — at the ritual.

A species in decline

Unfortunately, populations of the dynamic greater sage grouse are in decline, for many reasons. The loss of sage brush grasslands and the fragmentation of habitat make safety and sustainability of the species a key issue. Increased predation, perhaps from coyotes, the occasional red fox or possibly eagles, may also contribute to their decline. Disease may also be affecting their numbers in the southern prairies. Inclement weather with extremes of drought, even traffic noise and industrial activities are also potential causes of species decline.

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