Sharp-tailed Grouse

Ritual of spring

For untold millennia, a remarkable spring ritual has played out across the grasslands, parklands and woodland edges of North America.

For untold millennia, a remarkable spring ritual has played out across the grasslands, parklands and woodland edges of North America.

Spurred by some ancient and mysterious cue, male sharp-tailed grouse congregate each year in late March on their ancestral dancing grounds to compete for the privilege of passing on their genes. Males defends a small territory within a large lek (also called an arena), with each vying for the best piece of real estate and thus the right to mate. Most leks in Alberta have 10-20 males and the average lek size is 5 to 20 square metres .

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to witness this spring rite of passage a few weeks ago at CFB Wainwright, on a tour arranged by Laurence Hoover with the Wainwright Wildlife Society. We were treated to a magnificent performance

The dance of the sharp-tailed grouse is both comical and extravagant: with their tail feathers erect and white rear feathers fully fluffed, the males lower their wings to the ground, stretch out their necks and vigorously stomp around in small circles. Their pounding feet produce a tinny rattling sound which is accompanied by weird vocalizations as well as booms emanating from purple neck air sacks. Bright yellow eyebrows held erect add a garish touch to the theatrics.

The males dance alone or while facing others at the edges of their respective territories. They alternate between dancing frenetically and freezing motionless. Individuals will sometimes rush each other and there is the occasional aerial combat. Sometimes two or three individuals will squat in front of each other to engage in glaring matches (with the odd peck thrown in for good measure). If a predator happens by, the entire lek is temporarily abandoned.

The birds usually dance for a few hours at dawn and then head off to feed for the rest of the day. They dance most vigorously in the spring but also reassemble on the leks in the fall to reestablish territories and dominance hierarchies.

Female sharpies appear at the leks during mid to late April and wander through the maze of displaying males. The males, each desperate to become a chosen suitor, dance even more frenetically in her presence. The hen finally selects and then mates with the most impressive male before wandering off in search of a suitable nesting site. Like all lek species, the females form no pair bond with the males and the males have no part in looking after the young. The dominant males get to mate with several females while the subordinates dance in vain.

If you would like to view this amazing natural spectacle, check out

NOTE: Ellis Bird Farm is now open for the season. Check out for details.

Myrna Pearman is the biologist/site services manager at Ellis Bird Farm. She can be reached at

Just Posted

WATCH: Red Deer’s noxious weeds are a goat’s dietary delight

Piper Creek Community Garden gets chemical-free weed control

Get your guilty pleasures: Westerner Days food

Traditional sugary treats were served up by the plate, bowl and bucket… Continue reading

Centrefest brings feats of daring to Red Deer’s downtown

Fundraising was a tough slog, but it came together in the end

Count shows slight decrease in Red Deer’s homeless

In two years, the number of homeless in Red Deer has decreased… Continue reading

Redoing hip surgeries are costly, says new study

Redoing hip and knee replacements costs Canada’s health system $130 million a… Continue reading

WATCH: Cirque ZUMA ZUMA puts on a show at Westerner Days

ZUMA ZUMA performs three times a day during Westerner Days

Jones’ punt return TD rallies Riders to road victory over Ticats

Roughriders 31 Tiger-Cats 20 HAMILTON — Brandon Bridge kept Dave Watford on… Continue reading

PHOTOS: Red Deer’s Iron Buffalo rocks Westerner Days

Iron Buffalo opened for Helix and Lee Aaron Thursday at the ENMAX Centrium

Zuckerberg’s Holocaust comment puts Facebook on the spot

NEW YORK — Denying the Holocaust happened is probably OK on Facebook.… Continue reading

Brazilian police arrest ‘Dr. Bumbum’ after patient dies

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian police have arrested celebrated plastic surgeon Denis… Continue reading

Canadian marijuana company Tilray has first US pot IPO

SEATTLE — A Canadian company is the first marijuana business to complete… Continue reading

Dolphins anthem punishment includes suspensions

Miami Dolphins players who protest on the field during the national anthem… Continue reading

Soy “milk” makers may need to find alternative description

NEW YORK — Soy and almond drinks that bill themselves as “milk”… Continue reading

Calgary woman convicted in son’s strep death granted day parole

CALGARY — A woman whose son died after she failed to take… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month