Tuesday, April 7, 2009


This morning I surveyed a lek and saw this.

Front view

Back view

This hybrid Greater Sage-Grouse/Sharptail Grouse had been found at this lek last year and I made sure I got out to see it this year. It was very interesting watching the behavior of this bird compared to the sage-grouse he was hanging out with.
I could hear him in the dark before I could see him although the strange garbled sound was merely something different at that point. As the light got better I was able to watch him roam around the lek unchallenged by the sage-grouse as he chased around to where the female grouse were arriving. He was ignored by both the male and female sage-grouse as he strutted around until he stepped over some invisible line and was promptly thumped by one of the male sage-grouse.
His plumage was an interesting mix of both species. The breast feathers of his upper breast had the dark arrowhead pattern of a sharptail, but puffed out and looking spiked like the worn feathers on the breast of a sage-grouse without the yellow cervical apteria. There was no really apparent purple apteria on his neck but the neck feathers were dark and appeared splayed to where the apteria should be. The overall plumage was much like that described for two hybrid specimens previously described in Montana (Eng 1971).
His display was an interesting mix of behaviors to match his plumage. He began his display with a half-hearted foot stomping while leaning forward like a Sharp-tailed Grouse but then he stood up and leaned back to pull his wings along his side like a sage-grouse. His vocalizations were a short choking gurgle. He also tried to chuckle like a sharptail but that sounded off too.
He certainly tried hard. He displayed in earnest all around the lek, but no one seemed interested. He was at least able to bully some of the younger sage-grouse and I watched in drive off at least one individual a few times.

My friend Krissy thought the Frankengrouse label was a bit harsh and suggested I should call it "Pat" but that reference implies gender confusion and this bird was certainly all male - a mish-mash of parts and misunderstood so I am sticking with Frankengrouse.

Eng, R. L. 1971. Two hybrid Sage Grouse x Sharp-tailed Grouse from central Montana. Condor. 43: 491–493.


Anonymous said...

John, it would be of great scientific interest to get audio and video of the bird's display. It could help in learning how vocalizations and displays evolved in these birds.

-Nathan Pieplow
Boulder, CO

Krissy said...

Thanks John. Try get me in trouble with Pat! At least the bird is a male. I've named female Sage-Grouse after Joel (Jolena) and Dale (Dalene) so Pat should be happy that at least the bird is a male. And I don't care what people say. I like the little hybrids (not just because I'm a geneticist and like weird things) and can see why the females would be interested in them. I should send you the episode of Wild America with one displaying if you want to see it. And we need a better name than Frankengrouse. The Europeans call Black Grouse X Capercaillie hybrids Korpimetso so we need something catchy like that.


Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks for all the great grouse pics, and this little surprise, too. Very interesting indeed.

Radd Icenoggle said...

How interesting it must be to observe this particular hybrid, but also to ponder the biological species concept and all matters genetic. Quite the topic to fall asleep with.

Steve Bodio said...

Fascinating bird. Aren't Sage grouse despite appearance closer evolutionarily to Blue gruse? I seem to remember that from Grouse of the world.

Andy said...

Very cool, awesome photos. See also
Aldridge, C. L., S. J. Oyler-McCance, R. M. Brigham. 2001. Occurrence of Greater Sage-Grouse x Sharp-tailed Grouse hybrids in Alberta. The Condor 103: 657-660.

I don't know if this link will carry through, but here goes. http://www.bioone.org/doi/pdf/10.1650/0010-5422%282001%29103%5B0657%3AOOGSGS%5D2.0.CO%3B2