Grand Teton Invites Public to Join Ranger-Led Programs to Observe Strutting Sage Grouse

by Amy Myers

Grand Teton National Park is celebrating springtime by introducing some new ranger-led programs that allow visitors to see sage grouse in all their glory. Spring is mating season for many aviary species. However, the mating dance that male grouses perform for their potential spouses is unlike any other.

With a small head and a chubby, round body, sage grouses are the largest of the species in North America. When males display themselves on bare patches of earth, otherwise known as leks, they accentuate their size. They puff out their bulbous chests and yellow air sacs and spread their spiky feathers into a fan. Sage grouses, both male and female, tend to range from 22.1 to 29.5 inches. They can weigh as little as 49.4 ounces and as many as 102.3 ounces.

These creatures’ unique breeding dance is a huge pull to Grand Teton National Park. So, in order to allow guests to safely view this annual ritual, rangers will be leading programs on Saturday, April 23, Sunday, April 24, and Saturday, April 30. These programs will begin at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at 5:30 a.m. each day and will last three hours. Upon arrival, participants will travel in their own vehicles to the Mormon Row Area with the naturalist. In order to participate, you will need to make a reservation here. There is no fee. During the program, Grand Teton park rangers will provide information about sage grouse and conservation efforts occurring in Western states where sage grouse populations are declining.

Typically, sage grouse are fairly shy to visitors and disturbances. So, the park rangers’ presence will guarantee that guests can see the display in action. Take a look at this sage grouse spotted near Hudson, Wyoming.

Grand Teton Program Promotes Awareness of Sage Grouse Population Decline

Sage grouses are beloved members of Grand Teton’s ecosystem. Unfortunately, though, their numbers across the country have plummeted within the last six decades. In fact, populations have decreased by 80 percent since 1965 according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Last spring, USGS scientists focused their study on the effectiveness of conservation efforts. They also studied what exactly contributes to habitat loss and population change.

“Every day, the USGS brings diverse stakeholders the compelling science they need to make strategic, on-the-ground policy and management decisions,” said David Applegate, associate director exercising the delegated authority of the USGS director. “With this framework in place, resource managers can more nimbly respond to population declines with actions such as redistributing monitoring efforts or prioritizing where management intervention may be needed.”

As the study continues, it’s important for western national parks to pay close attention to sage grouse behavior.

“The framework we developed will help biologists and managers make timely decisions based on annual monitoring information,” said Peter Coates, USGS scientist and lead author of the report. “This will allow them to address local issues before they have significant impacts on the population.”