Bighorn rams butt heads. Bull elk bugle and lock horns. Humans kneel and brandish shiny ornaments of metal and stone. Animals in Wyoming will do almost anything, it seems, to win a mate. But for sheer bizarreness of procreation ritual, few, if any species can compete with the greater sage grouse.
Sage grouse gather at proving grounds, known as leks, each spring to determine who among them will pass on their genes — the same leks year after year, generation after generation. Males strut and dance and posture. They puff themselves up, as seen in the picture above, displaying spiky tail-feather fans, feathery crowns and prominent olive or yellow gular sacs — twin balloons of skin that they inflate, deflate and brush with their wings. The sounds are otherworldly.
It all makes for one heck of a show, the experience of which is quintessentially Wyoming. And now is the ideal time to go see it.
Wyoming Game and Fish has published the locations of 14 relatively accessible leks around the state. It’s best to arrive at least an hour before sunrise and to keep your distance from the dancing birds, so pack a thermos, binoculars and a spotting scope if you have one. And be sure to observe the lek viewing ethics found here.