Dancing to the Start of Spring

Hello fellow birders and welcome to the Bismarck-Mandan Bird Club Blog.

Before we get into our first blog post, we wanted to give you a quick introduction. At the beginning of each month, we will post on a bird of the month. These posts will include information, photos, and fun facts about a particular bird you may find in the area at that time! If anyone has an idea for a bird of the month post, please send it to bismanbirding@gmail.com (photos to go with the post are a big plus). This blog will also feature posts on field trips (including photos and bird lists from that day), different events, and any other topics our members might find interesting.

Now on to our first Bird of the Month!

As winter finally starts to release its grip on North Dakota, the excitement of returning raptors and waterfowl start to fill the sky. As these migrants are focused on making the long journey to their breeding grounds, our year round residents are focusing their concentration on mating. This truly is an exciting time to see spectacular dancing displays! As dawn breaks over the grasslands in April, displaying Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) males start their elaborate mating ritual. Males will point their tails up, spreads their wings out wide, hold their heads low, and stamp their feet rapidly while moving forward or in circles. To create a ‘tune’ to dance to, their purple neck sacs inflate and deflate to create a hollow cooing sound and they use their tail feathers as a sort of rattle. Below are a few more interesting facts about the Sharp-tailed Grouse:

1.     Defending small “territories” on the leks (their dancing grounds), males will fight to keep other males away from females.

2.     When flushed, sharp tailed grouse rise up by rapidly beating their wings and then alternating between a series of rapid stiff wing beats and glides on slightly drooping wings.

3.     It is estimated as much as 1/3 of the entire population resides in the state, making North Dakota an extremely important part of its core range.

4.     The birds can be found commonly through the Missouri Slope region of North Dakota.

5.     Native American called these birds “Fire birds”, as fire is an extremely important in maintaining the open grassland that this species relies on.

Photo Credit: US Fish and Wildlife

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