Opportunities offered to view sage-grouse mating dance

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Opportunities are being offered this spring for birdwatchers, wildlife enthusiasts and/or endangered-species naysayers to view the secret mating dance of the elusive greater sage grouse and the even-rarer Gunnison sage grouse.

sage-grouseThe recent proposed listing as endangered of the Gunnison sage grouse, which numbers about 4,500 birds total in the world, has sparked concern across Southwest Colorado and Eastern Utah, where the remaining birds reside.

Opportunities to view the Gunnison bird’s mating display on sites east of Monticello, Utah, will be offered the weekends of March 29- 30 and April 12-13 through the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. For thousands of years, sage grouse have returned to their traditional breeding grounds – called leks – to perform a dramatic and complex dance as they compete for mates.

Watching male sage grouse spread their spiked tail feathers and pop their large air sacs is a visual treat for bird-watchers. Hundreds from across the world visit Colorado every year to observe the mating display in person. On the Friday before each of the two weekends, there will be an orientation session at 7 p.m. in the San Juan County Building, 117 S. Main, Monticello.

The tours will involve rising before dawn and possibly being out in wintry conditions. Bring a camera and binoculars or a spotting scope. Carpooling will be encouraged to reduce disturbances to the birds. Tours will be conducted in small groups. For more information, call Brent Stettler at 435-613-3707. Tours will also be offered in Northwest Colorado to see greater sage grouse.

Once called the passenger pigeon of the plains, the greater sage grouse is facing declining population numbers and impacts to its habitat. A special guided tour is being offered to let people see greater sage grouse perform their elaborate mating dance and learn more about efforts to preserve this important bird of the sagebrush.

Tours are offered through Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Conservation Colorado, Rocky Mountain Wild, Friends of Northwest Colorado and The Wilderness Society.

“If you are a dedicated bird watcher, sagegrouse mating is certainly one for your life-list,” said watchablewildlife coordinator Trina Romero, of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in a press release. “But even a casual wildlife watcher will be in awe of this beautiful display.”

Space is limited and reservations are required. Several dates are available between March 18 and April 7, departing from Craig, Colo., at 4:30 a.m. To reserve a seat visit: http://conservationco.org/2013/02/sagegrousetours/ or for more info contact Sasha Nelson at sasha@conservationco.org or 970-824-5241.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife provides a viewing trailer for the guided tour so that people can sit inside and not disturb the grouse on the lek.

“It’s a responsible way to observe lekking behavior, and I highly recommend it,” said Romero. “Ethical wildlife viewing, especially of a sensitive species, should be a priority for all wildlife viewers.”

To learn more about greater sage-grouse, visit: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Research/ Birds/GreaterSageGrouse/Pages/Greater- SageGrouseStudies.aspx.

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