I had the privilege to participate in and be part of the Nebraska Prairie Chicken Festival this past weekend. This is the fourth year of this festival, but the first year I attended. I had high expectations going in since the festival is an event organized and hosted by Calamus Outfitters, but my expectations were exceeded in a number of ways. This was a top-notch affair with great birding and scenery that included morning trips to see lekking Greater Prairie-Chickens and Sharp-tailed Grouse (one trip each morning to see both species during the course of the event). Day birding trips included great views of Cinnamon Teal, Harris’s Sparrows, and Franklin’s Gulls, among other bird species. The festival had fantastic speakers that included Michael Forsberg and Larkin Powell. The food was “Nebraska excellent.” The attendees, many of whom came from outside of Nebraska, were a delight to socialize with over the duration of the event. All in all, a GREAT time.
On top of all that good stuff, a highlight for me was seeing a Sharp-tailed Grouse X Greater Prairie-Chicken hybrid on the Sharp-tailed Grouse lek Sunday morning. I was able to capture some (amateur) video of this bird which can be viewed, below.
This hybrid combination has been documented on numerous occasions. This paper by Paul Johnsgard and Robert Wood provides an excellent overview of the interactions between our two prairie grouse. Historically, the geographic ranges of Greater Prairie-Chickens and Sharp-tailed Grouse had limited overlap. Thus, the two species had limited opportunities to interact and hybridize. However, landscape alterations that humans caused since European settlement resulted in changes in the geographic distribution of both species. Their ranges now overlap quite a bit and thus there are opportunities for Greater Prairie-Chickens to mate with Sharp-tailed Grouse and vice versa. Like many hybrids, this bird seemed a bit confused with his mating displays. Even though there are consistently a small number of hybrid grouse in the world and Nebraska, it was a wonderful experience to see one perform on a lek in the Nebraska Sandhills.
Many thanks to Calamus Outfitters for a wonderful weekend and, particularly, Sarah Sortum for the invite to attend.