Using Remote Camera Technology to Survey Sharp-Tailed Grouse Leks in Montana

Scientific Disciplines
Biological Sciences - Terrestrial
remote cameras
sharp-tailed grouse
survey sharptailed grouse leks
lek surveys
Volume 18, No. 1-4

Using remote camera technology to survey sharp-
Tailed grouse leks in montana
Diane Boyd*, Gary Olson, Nathan P. Birkeland, and Derek Reich
Some of the biggest challenges in conducting lek surveys for sharp-tailed grouse in 
Montana are weather-related road access, distance between leks, visibility, and determining 
the maximum number of males and females at the lek.  The optimum time to survey peak 
dancing displays on leks is during the first few hours of morning daylight in April.  Surveys 
are traditionally conducted by biologists with binoculars or scopes in vehicles racing between 
distant leks to count sharptails before the dancing stops for the day.  Vehicular access to 
private land, snowstorms, muddy roads, and difficult hiking create problems in reaching 
leks during the peak mating season, and thus limit the efficacy and scope of sharp-tailed 
grouse surveys.  Biologists have used aircraft to locate new sharp-tailed grouse leks but 
this method is costly and not commonly employed.  The authors found no reports of remote 
cameras being used to count sharp-tailed grouse on leks.  The objective of this study was to 
determine if remote cameras would be an accurate and cost-effective tool to survey sharp-
tailed grouse leks.  The resulting camera images recorded more birds at a lek than ocular 
estimates or flushing counts yielded.  Additionally, the cameras worked well in all types of 
weather conditions, were low maintenance, reduced human disturbance to leks, and were 
cost-effective.   Incidental data collected included visitation to leks by predators, length of lek 
abandonment post-disturbance, and effects of weather conditions on dancing.