Window On Wildlife

Sharp-tailed grouse in east central Minnesota

Above are video clips of a lek north of Mille Lacs Lake. A lek is a large, open area where male sharp-tailed grouse assemble to display or "dance" to attract a female mate. This spring's dancing has wrapped up. While we move the camera to a nesting wood duck, you can watch a part of what happened by viewing the clips above.

Sharp-tailed grouse

Males extend their wings to their sides, stomp their feet, and rattle their “sharp” pointed tail in a “dance” to attract a female. Sometimes the males face-off to each other in contests. The males will also spar in the air with outstretched feet to assert their position on the lek.

When a female arrives at the lek, males will start dancing in earnest to get her attention. She will be the bird that is a little bit lighter in color and not dancing. If she selects a male, mating will only take a few seconds. When she is ready, she lays 10 to 14 eggs in a nest built from vegetation, usually within a mile of the dancing ground.

Fun facts

  • Males have purple air sacs on their necks that they inflate when they dance
  • Sharp-tailed grouse will roost under the snow to stay warm in the winter
  • Sharp-tailed grouse use the same dancing grounds year after year as long as the habitat remains
  • Watch these clips if there's no activity in the live view

Habitat & population management

Sharp-tailed grouse need large, open grasslands, brushlands or peatlands of 1-3 square miles in size. Open habitats were historically created and maintained through wildfire, forest clearing and other large-scale disturbances throughout most of Minnesota.

Today, wildlife managers simulate these disturbances with prescribed fire, mowing, tree removal and other types of habitat management to keep these large, open areas from changing into forest or becoming too small for sharp-tailed grouse.

DNR wildlife managers work cooperatively with private landowners, foresters, park staff, non-profit groups such as the Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups to manage at a large scale.

Despite ongoing collaborative management efforts, sharp-tailed grouse populations have been slowly declining and are now primarily in northwestern and east-central Minnesota due to challenges managing large areas comprised of multiple parcels with different landowners.

Learn more