How To Watch The Best Mating Dance In The West

March 29, 2017

Photo of a sunny spring lek by Tatiana Gettelman.

Check out the ‘sage grouse strut’ this spring on a live-streaming Lek Cam +  tips for responsible wildlife viewing

Have you ever seen a sage grouse strut? For the third straight year, you can witness the greater sage-grouse dancing to find a mate on a live-streaming wildlife camera, courtesy of a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a private landowner. Located on a breeding ground called a lek, male birds puff out their chests, pop their air sacs, and fan their tail feathers every morning in the spring to impress hens. Click here to watch live and recorded footage (best between 5-9 a.m. PDT).

This unobtrusive wildlife camera is designed to capture the intimate details of the sage grouse’s unique mating ritual without disturbing the birds or causing resource damage. The cameras illuminate the lek with infrared light, which these extremely sensitive birds aren’t able to see. The camera also often captures video of other wildlife such as mule deer, elk, and eagles.

2016 Lek Cam Highlights

Watching sage grouse strut from the comfort of your couch (or your office chair) is a treat, and a great alternative to chilly pre-dawn lek visits. However, if you aim to get out and see the amazing spring dance in-person, the Sage Grouse Initiative offers the following ‘dos and don’ts’ for respectful wildlife viewing.

Tips for Ethical Viewing of Sage Grouse

  • Go on a tour or to a public site to minimize disturbance to birds, such as Idaho’s Dubois Grouse Days,  watchable wildlife sites in Colorado, April lek viewing tours in NevadaOregon or Utah, or leks listed in this Wyoming Fish and Game guide.
  • Late April is the best time to visit since most breeding is complete, but males are still actively strutting.
  • Arrive at the lek at least one hour before sunrise in the dark.
  • Don’t drive on or near the lek and park away from the edge of the lek.
  • Turn off the engine and lights and stay in your vehicle.
  • Use binoculars and spotting scopes to observe birds.
  • Don’t make loud noises or sudden movements.
  • Don’t leave the lek site until the birds do.
  • Keep your pets in the vehicle or, better yet, leave them at home.
  • Don’t trespass on private land.
  • Postpone your visit if roads are muddy.
Viewers take care to observe respectful viewing techniques when visiting sensitive sage grouse leks.

Viewers take care to observe respectful viewing techniques when visiting sensitive sage grouse mating leks. Photo by Brianna Randall.

Landscape-Scale Sagebrush Conservation Partnership

Male sage grouse have danced at leks across their 173 million-acre, 11-state range for hundreds of thousands of years. The birds once occupied more than 290 million acres of sagebrush in the West, but the bird has lost more than half of its range due to habitat loss and fragmentation from development, noxious weeds and fire. The sagebrush West is home to more than 350 species of plants and animals, and is the largest, mostly intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states.

The NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative has joined the Fish and Wildlife Service, dozens of federal and state agencies, and thousands of private landowners to launch an unprecedented, landscape-scale conservation effort of the sagebrush West, an ecosystem that supports iconic wildlife, outdoor recreation, ranching and other traditional land uses. This collaborative effort has significantly reduced threats to the greater sage-grouse across 90 percent of the species’ rangeland breeding habitat.

The lek cam will be streaming live coverage from March 29, 2017, to May 15, 2017. Recorded coverage is available on the website.

Learn more about sage grouse mating: “What The Heck Is A Lek?”

Sage grouse male displays on lek. Photo by Rick McEwan.

The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.