Grassland grouse once thrived on the Eastern seaboard (the extinct heath hen) to the Pacific coast (the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse). In between were three major species of grassland grouse (the prairie-chickens, the sage-grouse, and the sharp-tailed grouse). Those historic grouse numbered in the millions.

All grassland grouse dance during their spring mating musicale, an energized stomp that more resembles a jitterbug than it does “Swan Lake.” The grouse provide their own orchestral accompaniment with a variety of sounds. The boom of a prairie chicken can be heard for a half-mile or more.

These children of the vast sweep of grass can only exist where their eerie mating calls echo in the still of a spring dawn like the ghosts of those who once roamed there — as free as the soft, sighing wind.

by Joel Vance