It took cautious planning and 5 a.m. wake-up calls, however naturalist Brian Keating managed to catch the mating dance of some Alberta sharp-tailed grouse that he described as “an avian mosh-pit.”
There are about 25 species of grouse, and the sharp-tailed grouse is without doubt one of the smallest — based on Keating, they’re roughly the scale of a rooster.
In Alberta, they are often related to the province’s open grasslands or cultivated areas, however will also be present in aspen woodlands.
Final week, on a pal’s ranch simply south of Pincher Creek, Keating and his spouse, Dee, trekked by the evening, and at daybreak from inside a trailer managed to watch male grouse performing a mating ritual that was “astoundingly fascinating mayhem.”
“They had been gathered at a dance location, which known as a lek, and I assume a lek can be greatest described as a polygamist mating enviornment,” Keating informed the Monday version of The Homestretch.
“It is a spot the place the males come and dance, they usually exhibit for the females.”
Leks are frequented by grouse for many years, Keating mentioned — the grass is often flattened.
The websites grouse use are sometimes chosen for good visibility, in order that predators and arriving feminine grouse could be scouted.
And the frilly courtship show produces the best exercise at daybreak, when a couple of dozen male grouse start stamping their toes at a price of 20 instances per second whereas rattling their tails backwards and forwards.
The sound of their toes is accompanied by the grouse’s personal name, made with the inflation of purple sacks on the edges of their necks.
And years in the past, when Keating labored on the Calgary Zoo, that sound was loud sufficient to reverberate throughout Zoo Island.
“They make a booming sound with it,” Keating mentioned. “They do that unimaginable show with their wings out.”
‘Actually fairly particular’
Females are available in and survey the dancing males, and presumably select the one with one of the best strikes, Keating mentioned.
And one other issue that contributes to who will get picked as a mate is the placement throughout the lek.
“Location … permits for 80 per cent of the mating to happen by 10 per cent of the males,” Keating mentioned.
“I assume to carry location, you’ve got to be an exceptionally vigorous and skilled male. And clearly, that is the male that the females need, to have entry to his genes.”
Watching from the within of their trailer, and with the home windows closed in order to not disturb the grouse, Keating mentioned they watched the males step up their dance strikes as females approached, earlier than some flew off collectively.
And the entire show, he mentioned, was “completely wonderful.”
“It was actually fairly particular,” Keating mentioned.
For extra fascinating tales about Alberta’s wildlife from naturalist Brian Keating, go to his web site and take a look at these tales:
With information from The Homestretch.