Each spring, sage-grouse gather on strutting grounds to engage in an age-old courtship ritual. The males gulp air to inflate greenish-yellow pouches on their chest. As air is expelled from these balloon-like pouches, they emit a curious "bloop, bloop" sound unlike anything else in nature. The "blooping" is accompanied a loud "swishing" noise as stiff wing feathers brush against the body and breast feathers. Between the "blooping" and "swishing," the cocks strut around in a stiff posture with pointed tail feathers spread into a fan.
All the while, the smaller females walk around the strutting ground feeding on grasses and sprouts. They appear to pay no attention to the performance taking place in their honor. However, once a hen is ready to breed, she crouches in front of a male, who consummates the courtship. Once finished, she runs a few steps, shakes herself vigorously, and flies off.
You can see this ritual yourself at a free wildlife-viewing event, hosted by the Division of Wildlife Resources in east-central Utah. The event will happen on April 9 at Emma Park, about 13 miles north of Price. To see and hear the spectacle, you need to be at the viewing site early. Viewing is best at sunrise. Grouse usually leave their strutting ground within an hour after sunup.
Grouse viewers need to be aware of a couple of things that could ruin their experience. If an eagle or coyote wanders into the vicinity, the grouse may scatter into the sagebrush or fly away. In such cases, the grouse won't return until the next morning. Aside from predators, sage-grouse are finicky about weather. They prefer clear spring-like days. If it rains, snows or is windy, the grouse postpone courtship until another day. - From Price, travel north on US-6 to the Castle Gate power plant. Turn right onto US-191. Then travel northeast about six miles to the Bamberger Monument. From there, turn left onto the Emma Park Road, and travel northwest until you see state vehicles.
For more information, call Brent Stettler at (435) 613-3707 or (435) 636-6731.