Dancers of Spring: Displaying Grouse Are a Must-See Spectacle

Lesser Prairie-Chickens displaying.

From the Spring 2022 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

Many birders chase warblers come spring, but the best show in the bird world starting in March might be on the grassy plains, where grouse perform eye- and ear-catching displays: Leaps and glides that would make a modern dancer swoon, booms and pops worthy of an orchestral percussion section, and runway-ready attire that glows and transforms in the subdued light of a prairie dawn.

Five North American species of grassland grouse gather in groups during the breeding season to dance on leks—open areas of ground where males display for females. And many public and private organizations offer access and tours to viewing blinds during the height of grouse lekking activity, giving birders a front-row seat to the show.

Any trip to a lek starts with doing your homework: Four of America’s grassland grouse are listed as Near Threatened or Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, so it’s critical for birders to plan carefully and follow all guidelines for minimizing disturbance at leks. But play by the rules and get yourself into a lek blind well before dawn on a spring morning, and you’ll be in for an astonishing show.

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