Sage-Grouse

Dance Fever!

Sage-Grouse and Lesser Prairie-Chickens lace up their dancing shoes just in time for mating season.

Defenders of Wildlife has been so busy challenging the succession of legislative and administrative threats to wildlife and our environment, we almost forgot to tell you: it’s dance fever again on the prairies and sagebrush grasslands out West. Three grouse species of conservation concern—greater sage-grouse, Gunnison sage-grouse, and lesser prairie-chicken—are right now strutting their stuff, each species offering its own unique impression of a 22-year-old John Travolta.

All three of these species use lek mating systems, where males gather each spring at ancestral breeding grounds early in the morning (and sometimes at dusk) to strut for the attention of females. Each species has an evolved style for approaching this ancient courtship ritual. Sage-grouse are the classical ballroom dancers, whereas the prairie-chicken prefer a livelier jazz-inspired style of dance.

These multi-talented fellas also vocalize as part of their display, rapidly inflating and deflating air sacs in their neck or chest to make sounds that defy explanation…it’s just something you’ve got to see for yourself:

Greater Sage-Grouse

Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Lesser Prairie-Chicken


Scientists still aren’t sure why female sage-grouse and prairie-chickens are attracted to all that hustling, shuffling and popping…but it works.

Boogie Down to Business

Now that you’ve seen these fantastic, outrageous creatures, you probably can’t imagine a world where they wouldn’t exist cavorting and strutting about on the high plains. But the truth of the matter is, these fancy dancers could be in trouble without your help. Congress is currently threatening to unravel a painstaking, four-year, $45 million planning process to conserve greater sage-grouse, which was intended to avoid the need to list the species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). By contrast, lesser prairie-chickens, listed briefly under the ESA during the last administration, need to be listed again. And Gunnison sage-grouse, currently listed as “threatened” under the act, need stronger protections on public lands if they are to survive.

There will be opportunities to speak out on behalf of all of these species in coming months. Please join Defenders in advocating for these special birds so they’ll not have to hang up their dancing shoes for good. And if you ever happen to find yourself out on a western shrubland or prairie this spring, take some time to enjoy the fancy foot and featherwork of these amazing birds.

To learn more about our continuing work to protect sage-grouse species, the lesser prairie-chicken and other imperiled wildlife, sign up for our emails where you will get all our latest news and action alerts. Don’t forget to follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on the status of other developments important to wildlife conservation and our work.