A performing male sage-grouse shows off his inflated yellow chest pouch. USFWS/Jeannie Stafford photo.
On Monday morning I found myself groggily standing in a Boise Albertson’s parking lot at 4:47 gripping a cup of coffee. It was an unusual start to a day that I won’t soon forget. A gaggle of curious souls were meeting there tohead out to the Owyhee wilderness to watch the greater sage-grouse gather for their annual mating ritual.
Every spring the male sage-grouse put on a fascinating show to impress the hens. Just before sunrise the males gather in a large clearing called a lek, where the hens nearby will easily spot them with their full chests and fanned tail feathers. The males strut around the lek hoping to catch the attention of the females, who will eventually each choose one as her mate. It is an amazing sight to behold, and it’s gone on this way for thousands of years.
The sagebrush that covers much of these lands is what allows the birds to survive and flourish. They rely on it not only as a food source but also as a place to lay their eggs safely under cover where they will stay protected. It is a beautiful high desert landscape that smells sweetly of sage and dust. As the sun began to rise over the plateau that morning, it was easy to remember why that place is so special and deserving of protection. I cherish the time I get to spend away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and was grateful for a day away in this new place.
As the morning progressed, the sage-grouse began to disperse-and we made our way deeper into the wilderness.
We followed the Mud Flat Road, winding through gorgeous landscapes from Grandview to the Oregon border. A few stops along the way allowed for hiking and more chances to observe the wildlife. We were lucky enough to see plenty of elegant pronghorn (including one that appeared to be a few days away from giving birth), an owl, deer, frogs, and many hawks.
Each year, this trip is planned for participants to go experience the beauty of the Owyhees and watch the sage grouse in their lek. The trip serves as a welcome reminder that beyond the city limits and the confines of our busy lives, the natural world carries on in these protected places, so that maybe one day, our children and our children’s children can experience the same awe and wonder of nature that I felt that day.
Watch a brief video of the incredible male greater sage-grouse display.