Saturday, May 10, 2014

What a Lek of a Day!

We have been in Malheur NWR for about 10 days. We arrived on April 24th and hit the road running, doing Greater Sandhill Crane surveys- how wonderful is that?! More on the Greater Sandhill Cranes in another blog.

We have always wanted to see a Greater Sage-Grouse Lek. Greater Sage-Grouse are famous for their elaborate courtship rituals. Each spring males congregate in leks and perform a "strutting display". It is like a choreographed dance. Ideally groups of females observe these displays and select the most attractive males to mate with. The dominant male located in the center of the lek typically copulates with around 80% of the females of the lek. Males perform in leks for several hours in the early morning and evening during the spring months, typically February - April. Lek generally occur in open areas adjacent to dense sagebrush stands, and the same lekking ground may be used by grouse for decades.

Residential building and energy development have caused the Greater Sage-Grouse population to decline from 16 million 100 years ago to between 200,000 and 500,000 today. The species is in decline due to loss of habitat; the bird's range has shrunk in historical times, having been extirpated from British Columbia, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico.

The lek that we visited has been known to be in this location for a very long time with around 24 males participating. There was a fire through the area in 2011 so local birders are not sure what the status of the lek is due to loss of viable habitat. The Greater Sage-Grouse's diet is totally dependent on sagebrush so loss of the sagebrush due to fire means no food for the Greater Sage-Grouse population. Currently there are only 5 males participating in the lek. Whether any females have been visiting is unknown.

We took Friday off and headed up to the lek about 4:00 am. We were in place by 5:00 am. It was still dark but we could hear them foot-drumming & hooting with their inflatable esophagal air sacs! The sun started to come up and these are a few photos of the magical dance that we there to observe:)

The world is truly filled with beauty and wonder,

Turtle and Hawk

1 comment:

  1. Great captures of their interesting dance. I was fortunate to witness the endangered whooping cranes dance while in Texas this past winter. I believe the cranes have piqued my interest in birding :-)