The Conservation Dance

Posted on October 29

Meet Monty! Monty arrived at the Calgary Zoo as an unhatched egg from Montana and joined the zoo team at the Snyder-Wilson Family Greater Sage-Grouse Pavilion in spring 2019.

The sex of greater sage-grouse chicks aren’t distinguishable early on. But, shortly after he was born, Monty started strutting his body-popping mating dance, on a communal dancing ground called a “lek”, so we gave him a masculine name. We’re hopeful this special bird and his dance moves, will establish himself with our hens next breeding season as the ‘most desirable bachelor’ and his offspring will help save the wild greater sage-grouse from disappearing from Canada.

Watch the ‘dance’

Monty remains a staff favourite at the Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre, “helping” the staff clean his habitat by getting in the way, and busting a move, hoping we’ll compliment him on his moves (which we do!).

This month, the Calgary Zoo will release nearly 80 greater sage-grouse into native prairie in Alberta on a Nature Conservancy of Canada site and at Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. Our goal of this project is to increase the wild population through captive breeding and release, to work with partners who conserve and enhance important greater sage-grouse habitat, and to continue our work to save this endangered species. The Calgary Zoo began this breeding program in 2014 and now have a sustainable breeding population dedicated to the recovery of this iconic prairie bird.

Why do we care about Monty, the hens and their offspring?

  • The greater sage-grouse is critical to our ecosystem because they are indicators of healthy and intact sagebrush habitat, which is used by numerous other prairie birds and mammals such as pronghorn antelope.
  • The greater sage-grouse population in Canada is critically close to disappearing in the wild forever; currently, there are between 100 and 200 adults left in Canada.
  • Less than two per cent of greater sage-grouse that hatch in the wild will survive to the beginning of the next breeding season, meaning that conditions in the wild must be improved to help them to recover.

What the Calgary Zoo is doing to save Monty and his species from extinction.

  • The Calgary Zoo is leading Canada's only reintroduction breeding program for greater sage-grouse, preserving the unique genetics of the species and releasing birds to increase the wild population. 
  • Sometimes the hens raise their chicks, sometimes our dedicated Animal Care team raises the chicks, sometimes we help the hens raise their chicks – it takes a village to save a species on the brink.
  • When necessary, the Calgary Zoo Animal Care and Veterinary staff nurtures the chicks to a stage where they can viably be released into their natural habitat.
  • The Calgary Zoo Horticulture team has propagated and grown thousands of sagebrush for this program. As well, they have responsibly harvested naturalized sagebrush stands in Alberta and British Columbia to be used as nutrition for greater sage-grouse.
  • A major milestone this year was that a bird released in 2018 successfully bred in the wild and hatched out a nest of her own. Our focus is now on identifying how released birds can survive and reproduce better in the wild amidst all the challenges they will face.
  • The Calgary Zoo partners with organizations committed to the recovery of greater sage-grouse. Supporters of this recovery project include Alberta Environment & Parks, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service.
  • The Calgary Zoo worked with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to locate a site with suitable greater sage-grouse habitat, which was secured by the land trust organization for the purpose of greater sage-grouse releases in Alberta, and Parks Canada, who provided Grasslands National Park as a release site in Saskatchewan.