BLM - Bureau of Land Management

04/02/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/02/2024 00:09

Rites of Spring

Rites of Spring

Apr 2, 2024

Heather Feeney, Public Affairs Specialist

For much of the year, greater sage-grouse stay out if sight under the cover of sagebrush and native grasses that also serve as their food. But for several weeks between late March and the end of May, the birds step out onto nearby open areas called leks, where adult male birds strut and whoop to attract the attention of potential mates.

While mating takes place in the open, a serviceable lek is ringed by thicker, undisturbed vegetation that hens can easily reach to build nests and lay their fertilized eggs. The birds often return to the same lek season after season, as long as it remains intact, and females use the same nesting area -- sometimes within a few feet of where they were successful the previous year.

Lek in the ecological context comes from the Swedish word for 'playground.' In another
part of Europe, it's the name of Albania's currency. | BLM-Idaho

Other birds, some fish and insects, and even a few mammals use leks to breed, but the greater sage-grouse's ritual is one of the most complex. The vocal, animated, brightly colored males have the spotlight, but eventual pairing are females' choice. Each hen mates only once per season after attending a lek for several days, but an individual male may mate with multiple females in a day.

USFWS/Tom Koerner

The display is costly for the males: they exhaust themselves on the lek, losing weight and body condition. Attracting the hens' attention also leaves them vulnerable to predators. This explains why males typically live only half as long as females and many die on the lek.

Both females and males are physically mature for breeding at one year of age, but their inexperience usually makes young birds less successful. First-year males aren't able to outshine their elders and usually "ride the bench" at the edge of the lek. Female yearlings may choose less secure spots for nesting. Hens that lose a nest early in the season may return to a lek for a second breeding attempt. If it's mid- to late May, this may be a moment for the younger males.

The popping sound made when males force air in and out of the yellow sacs on their chests may carry over a mile,
beckoning hens across a wider range. | BLM-California

The BLM sets buffers, or minimum distances, around leks on public lands, and noise abatement measures may also be added as conditions authorizing uses of public lands that contain sage-grouse habitat. These management tools balance multiple uses while avoiding or minimizing disruption of important habitat.

The size of buffers and the timing and type of noise abatement requirements are based on scientific research and may vary according to local conditions. Measures adopted in the BLM's 2015 greater sage-grouse plans were based on studies compiled in a U.S. Geological Survey report. More recent research may result in adjustments as the BLM updates the 2015 plans.

GET INVOLVED | Review and comment on the draft environmental analysis of proposed options for strengthening protection of the greater sage-grouse's habitat on BLM-managed public lands. The comment period is open through June 13, 2024.

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