Saturday, April 28, 2012

Little Grouse on the Prairie

During this trip, I was able to observe five different lekking grouse: Greater Sage-Grouse, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Lesser Prairie Chicken & Greater Prairie Chicken. The final lek of my trip was of the Greater Prairie Chicken which was situated on private ranch land. The property is owned by Bledsoe Cattle Company, a large operation that produces beef primarily for the Japanese market.

Greater Prairie Chicken

Displaying Greater Prairie Chickens inflate their throat sacks and raise their specialized neck feathers (called pinnae) to a vertical position. They also engage in a dancing behaviour which is not quite as energetic as Sharp-tailed Grouse, but is more so than the two Sage-Grouse taxa.

Greater Prairie Chickens Face Off

Interestingly, all five prairie grouse taxa share a very close genetic affinity, despite the morphological differences which are apparent between displaying males of each species. The rate of morphological modification in a population is known to outpace genetic change in species, like these grouse, which exhibit a strong pattern of sexual selection.

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