Media Contact: Cyd Janssen, Forest Public Affairs Officer
Grouse viewing blinds available April 1 for free use
Nebraska and South Dakota, March 18, 2019 – Across our entire region, a spectacular avian display will soon be underway!
Every spring, male sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie-chickens perform a mating “dance” to attract their respective females. The areas where the birds perform this ritual is called a lek, and the same lek site can be used for decades. Some leks are used exclusively by the sharp-tails, others exclusively by the greater prairie-chickens, and still others can be mixed-lek areas, where both species can be observed and even occasionally hybridize. The dances typically begin while it is mostly dark and continue for an hour or more after sunrise. Our blinds offer visitors near-by photo and observation opportunities as the grouse perform their lively spring courtship displays. The blinds will be open to the public beginning April 1st, and will stay open until the mating season ends in mid-to-late May.
According to Buffalo Gap National Grassland wildlife biologist, Tony Willman, “Each male has a small territory within the lek which it defends vigorously against other trespassing males. Border skirmishes are frequent but virtually harmless. When a female arrives on a lek, the males begin frantically displaying to gain her attention and approval. The “dance” consists of rapid foot stomping and running in curving directions. The head will be down, wings spread and tail stiffly pointed up and shaking from side to side to produce a rattle.”
Multiple Districts on the Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands will be hosting grouse blinds during the 2019 mating season: Bessey Ranger District, Wall Ranger District, Fort Pierre Ranger District, and Pine Ridge Ranger District.
The use of the blind is free and available by reservations or on a first come, first serve basis, depending on the site. The avian displays are conducted just after sunrise and just before sunset. The birds are most active in the morning so it is recommended visitors arrive at the blind at least 45 minutes before sunrise to reduce lek disturbances. Viewing typically can last up for two to three hours.
Please be aware that the grouse may not display if folks are late to the blind, late-comers will scare the birds away and they may disperse for extended periods of time.
Visitors are recommended to bring warm clothing, a comfortable seat, binoculars, camera, snacks, a flashlight, an area map, and a viewing blind map. Also, please pack out what you pack in, don’t leave anything for the next visitors.
The Bessey Ranger District, near Halsey, NE has two blinds at a sharp-tail lek. These are accessible with a four-wheel drive vehicles or a 0.7 mile walk. Reservations are not needed for this site. For additional information and maps call the Bessey District Ranger Office at 308-533-2257.
The Wall Ranger District in Wall, SD, on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland will be hosting two blinds; a sharp-tailed lek and a mixed lek. For reservations on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, please contact the National Grasslands Visitor Center at 605-279-2125 or stop in Monday through Friday, 8am to 4:30pm. The National Grasslands Visitor Center is located at 708 Main Street, Wall, SD 57790.
The Fort Pierre Ranger District in Ft. Pierre, SD will also be hosting two blinds; one sharp-tailed and one greater prairie-chicken. Reservations are required. To book a seat, and to receive maps and driving instructions, please call the Fort Pierre Ranger District office at 605-224-5517 during regular business hours.
The Pine Ridge Ranger District in Chadron, NE is hosting a single blind on a sharp-tailed grouse lek on the Oglala National Grassland. Reservations are required Friday-Sunday and are not required Monday-Thursday. For more information, directions and reservations, please contact the Pine Ridge RD office at 308-432-0300 or stop in Monday through Friday, 8am – 4:30pm at 125 N. Main Street, Chadron NE 69337.
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