A male sage grouse struts on a Wyoming lek in April 2020. (Bill Sincavage)

As far as critters go, greater sage grouse are fairly nondescript. The chicken-size birds have grayish brown plumage — great for blending in with their preferred habitat, sagebrush steppe, but not particularly striking. 

Come spring, though, the male members of the species strut onto leks and perform a sunrise mating display that is at once regal and absurd. Tail feathers fanned behind them like daggers, faces framed in chest plumage and chest sacs bouncing to that signature watery sound, they preen and dance in an effort to attract hens. 

Though spring grouse viewing is a popular bird-watching pastime in Wyoming — which is home to 43 million acres of sagebrush and roughly 37% of the world’s greater sage grouse population, according to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service — bird lovers are advised to keep a respectable distance and not disturb the birds. 

Greater sage-grouse numbers have declined for the last three years in a row in Wyoming and other western states, and data indicates the 2020 numbers will drop once again.

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Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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