It's dawn on a clear spring morning, and love is in the air -- even if it doesn't look like it.
Several mid-size male birds are facing off with one another in an annual ritual in which they vie for female companionship with a colorful and animated display, bobbing up and down and puffing out their chests using two large air sacs that make them appear almost comically bloated. Somewhere nearby, females are watching as they carefully determine who their mate will be this year.
This is the mating dance of the sage grouse, a popular bird that has come to symbolize the ongoing struggle and balance in the western United States between human development and the preservation of nature. In Utah and elsewhere throughout the west, there has been an ongoing debate for years whether the sage grouse should be protected as an endangered species, which would render much of its namesake sagebrush habitat off-limits to development.
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