Bill Thrune - USFWS
Spring's Journey North
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Signs of Spring: March 16, 1998
Dancing at Dawn
Male grouse and prairie chickens are now starting their mating displays in many places throughout
Please report the unique sights and sounds of spring from
These relatives of farm chickens are all large, tasty birds that attract coyotes, foxes, hawks, and owls, so they
are very secretive. But some of them have spectacular displays very early in the morning--before it's light enough
for most predators to be out. Many of them produce weird or eerie sounds by pumping air.
In the prairie states, prairie chickens are now "booming." They inflate colorful
air sacs on the sides of their throat and beneath their "eyebrows" and produce a low sound that is similar
to blowing air over an empty soda bottle. Sharp-tailed Grouse, from the prairie provinces and northern prairie
states, inflate purple throat airsacs and thump their feet so hard on the ground that they sound like someone is
starting up a noisy lawn mower. Sage Grouse, living in sagebrush areas of the plains, have a fascinating yet funny
display, inflating huge airsacs on their chests. When going about their normal daily business, all of these birds
deflate their colorful air sacs, which stay fairly hidden beneath their feathers so they can be camouflaged to
hide from predators.
Prairie chickens and some grouse gather on traditional display grounds year after year. These gathering places
are called "leks", and in some places people have built wooden blinds where kids or adults can watch
without scaring them away. Call your state or province's department of natural resources to find out if any of
these species have a display area near you, and how you can arrange to watch.
Ruffed Grouse "drum" in forests and woods throughout most of Canada and the northern states, making a
deep "thump thump thump" sound that starts slow and speeds up, as if someone were dropping a bowling
ball on the forest floor. This sound is made by cupping air in their "wingpits." Have
you ever made a sound by cupping air in your armpits?
When you hear a drumming grouse, it's possible to sneak up to get a better look, but this works best with just
a few people looking at a time. Make sure you're wearing waterproof boots, because forest soil is wet and muddy
spring. Listen hard to figure out what direction the sound is coming from. Move toward it while the grouse is drumming,
and between drumming hold still and be very quiet. Look on the ground for fallen logs: the grouse sits very still
between drumming activities, and blends in very well. Just before it
begins drumming, it sometimes inflates its throat, making the "ruff" feathers stick out, and then pulls
its body erect and starts beating its wings.
Challenge Question #1
Here's something to think about: Most grouse and prairie chickens produce very deep mating calls.
Challenge Question #1
Why do you think these mating calls of prairie chickens and grouse are deep and low, rather than high-pitched?
(To respond to this question, please
follow the instructions at the end of this report.)
Spring News From Journey North Observers
||"About a dozen purple martins this AM in the neighborhood." Port Lavaca TX
||Mississippi River near RedWing, MN open for barge traffic 2 weeks early .
||"I saw my first horseshoe crab on a beach in Jamaica Bay, NY"
||Daffadill greens are peeking through the soil in Montrose, PA
||"We've got worms!" Greenwood Central School, Greenwood NY
||A flock of 35 tundra swans resting in a flooded field in Plainfield, PA.
||There were a half dozen robins feeding on one lawn in Auburn, ME
||The first Bullock's Oriole was reported near Fort Morgan, CO. This is one of the earliest
sightings of a Bullock's Oriole in Colorado. Usually they
show up at the end of March to middle of April.
How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question
1. Address an e-mail message to: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 1
3. In the body of EACH message, answer the question above.
The Next Signs of Spring Update Will be Posted on March 30, 1998
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