Wildlife Refuges Showcase Nature’s Courtship Rituals Long Past Valentine’s Day
In the wild, some species go all out to woo their mates in spring with noisy and colorful shows. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s national wildlife refuges are great places to see or hear them.
Here are a few examples of species to look for at refuges across the country:
- The male Attwater’s prairie chicken — a member of the grouse family — does a jig and makes a “booming” sound by filling orange air sacks on the sides of its neck. The daytime spectacle is popular with visitors every March and April at the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, established to protect habitat for the critically endangered bird. See and hear booming here. This year’s annual Attwater’s Prairie Chicken Festival takes place April 14 and 15.
- Further north, the American woodcock — also known as the timberdoodle — puts on a striking “sky dance” after dark. Starting at the end of March, the male woodcock leaves its cover for open fields, where it calls to females with a series of sharp “peent”s. Then it suddenly flies up, twittering, in a widening spiral, floats briefly and dives zigzag back to earth. You can follow it with a flashlight. In his book A Sand County Almanac, famed conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote of the woodcock’s sky dance: “Since we discovered it, my family and I have been reluctant to miss even a single performance.” Spring woodcock walks are favorites at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont and Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island. American woodcocks can also be found at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey and other refuges. Hear a courting woodcock here.
- At Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, and elsewhere, the grey tree frog makes a racket to attract females in spring breeding season. Beginning in early April, it inflates its vocal pouch to balloon-like proportions and emits a melodic trill. University of Missouri researchers recently found that the male calibrates his love song to attract mates with matching chromosomes. See and hear a grey tree frog calling here.
- And along the Delaware Bay, the annual coming ashore of thousands of horseshoe crabs to spawn is a tourist attraction in May and June. Male horseshoe crabs crowd along the water line to vie for arriving females. A male grabs onto a mate and rides ashore, where she deposits her eggs in the sand and he fertilizes them. Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware and Cape May National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey are good spots to watch the show. See a video here.
The National Wildlife Refuge System includes more than 2,500 miles of land and water trails. There is at least one national wildlife refuge in every state and one within an hour’s drive of most major cities.
National wildlife refuges are dedicated to the conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats. The nation’s 556 national wildlife refuges and other units of the Refuge System, plus 38 wetland management districts, offer a wide range of wildlife-dependent recreation — from fishing, boating, hunting and hiking to wildlife observation and photography, nature interpretation and environmental education. Refuges offer many programs and events geared to families and children. These include festivals, junior naturalist classes, boating and fishing instruction, crafts and more.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page, follow our tweets, watch our YouTube Channel, and download photos from our Flickr page.
Photo: An endangered Attwater's prairie chicken inflates the orange air sacks on the sides of its neck to make a “booming” sound, in a spring mating ritual popular with visitors to the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. (Photo credit: George Lavendowski.)