Stories in North Dakota

April Nature Notes

April brings wildflowers and spectacular courtship displays.

A sharp tailed grouse in a courtship display.
Sharp-tailed grouse The male Sharp-tailed Grouse display to attract females on communal dancing grounds, called leks. © Rick Bohn of USFWS

Winter’s cold is ending come April and even if there may be sudden snow, early wildflowers and courting birds reveal that spring is on the way!

A sure sign of spring—and fascinating to watch—are the courting displays of sharp-tailed grouse. These chicken-like birds gather at a lek, a patch of ground where males compete for the attention of hens by performing a dance display at dawn. Dancing grouse spread their wings, lower their heads, and raise the short bright yellow feathers above their eyes. 

The tail is also raised and spread like a fan. The birds then rush forward or turn in tight circles, rapidly stamping their feet and rattling their tail feathers. The males inflate and deflate prominent purple neck sacs, cooing and cackling. They also fight—within the lek, each bird has a small territory and those spots are hotly contested as hens may prefer males in some locations over others.

The birds’ performance typically lasts three to four hours and is best observed from a blind. Blinds can be reserved at several locations at no cost. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department typically has an observation blind at Lonetree Wildlife Management Area southwest of Harvey. Blinds are also often available at these National Wildlife Refuges:


Grouse also can be watched from the road at The Nature Conservancy’s Davis Ranch and a blind is available at Cross Ranch (call 701-794-8741 to reserve and be prepared for a muddy vehicle trail and a quarter-mile walk to access). 

Dress warmly, and enter your blind before sunrise so the birds won’t see you. It’s best to visit the blind the day before so you’ll know your way to it in the dark. You will be rewarded with a front-row seat for watching dancing grouse.


Sharp tailed grouse in courtship display.
Sharp-tailed grouse Two sharpies perform their ritual mating dance on a lek. © Chris Helzer
Pasqueflowers in bloom.
Pasqueflower Pasqueflowers are some of the first flowers to bloom on the prairie in the spring. © Steve S. Meyer

Courting grouse are not the only early signs of spring in North Dakota’s grasslands. Prairie crocus or pasque flower (so-named because it blooms around Eastertime), thrives on prairies with gravelly and sandy soils. 

One location to search for pasque flowers is The Nature Conservancy's Pigeon Point Preserve in eastern North Dakota. Aldo Leopold, on the necessity of wild things, wrote in A Sand County Almanac that “…the chance to find a pasque flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.” 

Find a pasque flower and know unquestionably that spring has arrived on the prairie!