Discovery Center offers exhibit on the rapidly disappearing grouse

grouse-3The grouse mating ritual – fanned tail feathers, struts and charges, puffed air sacs and booming sounds – is unforgettable but few will ever see it.

Birds once as common in North America as buffalo are disappearing in Missouri and elsewhere.

But large, mounted photos of grouse in elaborate mating poses are on display through December at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center, 4750 Troost Avenue.

grouse-1The pictures are from a decade of work by Missouri photographer Noppadol Paothong documenting the birds in an effort to save them.  He recently published “Save the Last Dance – A story of North American Grassland Grouse,” a book of photos along with text by noted outdoor writer Joel M. Vance.

One grouse-like species of the east coast, the heath hen, has already gone extinct despite strong efforts to save it. Others are likely to follow.

The greater prairie chicken was once all over Missouri but is now endangered in the state. Probably only about 150 are left in the southwestern part of it and a handful more in the Dunn Ranch area in the north, said Max Alleger, a bird biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The 150 birds are the offspring of 435 grouse brought in from Kansas and released from 2007 to 2010, he said.

grouse-3The winters from those years were wet and killed many grassland birds like grouse and quail, Alleger said. Another big problem is a lack of the right grassland habitat. Grouse like grass up to 14 inches tall and groups of them require a lot of space and do not like trees and brush.

“They like a wide open vista,” he said. “It’s hard to find a place without tree rows and hedge rows.”

Alleger said the birds are “a pretty rare and special thing.”

He works with landowners to try to get habitats and will continue to do it, he said, but the population has been declining for years.

Those pictures at the Gorman center are likely to be as close as most people ever get to the grassland birds.

They include the dramatic Gunnison sage-grouse, a globally threatened species that remains in only a few small areas of Colorado and Utah.

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