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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Love All Around: Nature's Courtship Rituals

It’s just about Valentine’s Day! Looking to show your sweetie just how much you love him or her? Take a cue from wildlife, who often put on fascinating shows species put on to attract a mate. These colorful, noisy rituals can be seen firsthand at many national wildlife refuges.

Take the male Attwater’s praire chicken. He’ll dance a jig and make a “booming” sound by filling orange air sacks on the sides of his neck. The spectacle can be seen in March and April at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Its annual festival is April 8-9.

If you want some help converting the chicken's moves to human form, wildlife biologist Laurie Gonzales can help:

Or maybe you aren't a prairie chicken at heart. To the north, you can find the American woodcock, whose night “sky dance” can be seen in places like Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont or Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island. The dance, which renowned author and conservationist Aldo Leopold loved, begins with a series of sharp “peent” sounds, until the bird suddenly flies up, twittering, in a widening spiral, floats briefly, and dives zigzag back to earth. 

Maybe you’re more of a greater sage-grouse. Every year, they gather in March and April on leks, or breeding grounds, where males gather to strut their stuff hoping to attract the attention of females.  The early-morning ritual involves popping and bubbling noises that can be heard hundreds of yards away. With their pointed tail feathers erect, and their white breast feathers accentuated by air sacs, they create a spectacular mating display.

Or how about the grey tree frog that inflates its vocal pouch to balloon-like proportions and sounds a melodic trill? University of Missouri researchers discovered the male can calibrate his love song to attract a mate with matching chromosomes! If you’re hoping to hear the song, head to Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, or Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas in early April.

And then there are the horseshoe crabs, which come ashore in the thousands to spawn in May and June. The male horseshoe crab crowds along the water line, vying for arriving females. When the time is right, he will grab onto a mate and ride ashore. The female will dig a hole in the sand to deposit her eggs, and the male fertilizes them. Some great spots to check this out: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware and Cape May National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Horseshoe Crabs MatingMispillion Harbor, Deleware Photo: Gregory Breese/USFWS

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