Saturday, March 15, 2014

Watch sharp-tailed grouse mating dances

Sharp-tailed grouse
Day hikers can see the elaborate dances of sharp-tailed grouse on the Reed Lake Meadow State Natural Area Trail in Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows Wildlife Area.

Late March through May provide ample opportunities to spot the birds during their morning mating displays.

Largest sedge meadow
To reach the trail, from the visitor center take County Road D east. Turn left/north onto Rylander Road then right/east onto North Fork Dike Road. North Fork Dike becomes Kylingstad Road. At the next junction, turn left/north onto Hildas Road, which becomes James Road. A jeep trail is about 0.4 miles north of Klotts Road on the left/east.

Take the jeep trail to the parking lot, which overlooks the largest sedge meadow in the wildlife area. Reed Lake is to the north with North Fork Flowage to the south. Much of the sedge meadow, including Reed Lake, is protected as part of the Reed Lake Meadow State Natural Area.

From the parking lot, hike to and from James Road for a 0.46-mile round trip.

As walking, watch the trail’s south side for sharp-tailed grouse. They like the mowed, brush-free areas, which allows females to more easily spot males and for both genders to more easily spot predators.

Courtship dance
Before sunrise, male grouse make their way to the mowed area, where each selects a small area in which other males are not allowed to enter. Then each male begins a mating dance with the aim of attracting a female. This mating arena is known as a lek.

Their courtship dance includes stamping feet 20 times a second, rattling tail feathers, and turning in circles or strutting forward while cooing. The males’ purple neck sacs also puff up and deflate.

The grouse live in the brush-prairie surrounding the mowed area. State environmental efforts restored much of this prairie ecosystem – which dominated the higher ground of Crex Meadows more than 150 years ago – during the past quarter century.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.