The iconic bird of the ‘Sagebrush Sea’

A new book shows the life cycle of sage grouse in their natural habitat.

  • Every spring, male sage grouse perform an elaborate display, an effort to attract females.

    Noppadol Paothong
  • Strutting sage grouse males do not wait for spring to begin their ritual dance. This male begins his performance in February in Wyoming’s snow and ice.

    Noppadol Paothong
  • When hatched, sage grouse chicks are covered with grayish fluffy feathers, marked with patches of brown and black on the body, wings and head. Newly hatched chicks weigh less than an ounce.

    Noppadol Paothong
  • Young birds stay together during the warm summer months for a better chance of survival. They are well adapted by camouflage and instinct to survive, but roughly half will die before winter.

    Noppadol Paothong
  • Sage grouse lekking activities come to an end when all the females have been bred, usually in May. Males then stop displaying and leave the lek for summer habitat. They play no role in nesting or caring for the next generation.

    Noppadol Paothong
  • It's rare today to witness a gathering of hundreds of sage grouse, like this one in Wyoming. But it was a common sight in the 1800s, when early explorers and settlers frequently encountered large flocks of the birds.

    Noppadol Paothong

 

Sage grouse live only in the arid Intermountain West. Vast and austere, this “Sagebrush Sea” is often seen as empty, but it’s actually full of life, and the sage grouse is well adapted to existence there. Still, the species is threatened, and fewer than 400,000 grouse remain.

Noppadol Paothong

In this vibrant collection, Sage Grouse: Icon of the West photographer Noppadol Paothong captures these creatures in their full glory. Spanning the bird’s life cycle, the images highlight its flamboyant courtship dance while revealing aspects of grouse life never before documented. The accompanying text by natural history writer Kathy Love explores the sagebrush ecosystem, the grouse’s history and the perils it faces. Love also describes the conservation efforts supporters are fighting for. The birds’ famous mating display doesn’t just perpetuate the species, she notes: It “may also perpetuate grouse populations by leading humans to care enough to conserve them.”

Sage Grouse: Icon of the West
Photos by Noppadol Paothong, text by Kathy Love
180 pages, hardcover: $45. Laguna Wilderness Press, 2017.

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