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Sam Cook column: Males spring into mating

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Duluth, 55802
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

We were sitting in camp Monday evening when I heard them. They were calling from a little creek nearby. They sounded like mallards with a self-esteem problem.

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Male wood frogs.

Their modest clucks soon will echo from spring ponds in the woods up here, but these were in southeastern Minnesota, where spring already is busting loose. Exactly what it is that female wood frogs appreciate about the garbled grunting of male wood frogs is unclear to us two-leggers. Whatever it is, it has proved essential to the process of wood frogs making more wood frogs since soon after the glaciers receded.

Let’s face it. Males of all species are only too willing to croak, warble, sing, dance, preen, drum, leap or just stand at a bar in a snug-fitting pair of Levis in our humble effort to perpetuate one species or another. We’re guys. It’s what we do. And this is our time.

A friend of mine sent photos this week of male sharp-tailed grouse, strutting on their dancing grounds. They inflate violet air sacs on their cheeks. Their tailfeathers stand erect. Yellow patches unfold above their eyes. As if on cue, 10 or 12 of these males will simultaneously begin stomping and buzzing around like feathered F-16s taxiing on an unseen tarmac.

They do this every morning for days. The females are sitting somewhere off to the side in the close-cropped hayfield, deciding who dances best. When she has decided, they presumably go off by themselves, and a few weeks later, she’s sitting on a clutch of sharptail eggs.

Who would have thought the future of a species would rest on a dance? It reminds me of a conversation among some Inupiat Eskimos I camped with a number of years ago. They were from Kotzebue, and they were talking about traveling to another community to dance their native dances.

“Those guys from Shishmaref,” one said. “They can’t dance at all.”

For pure puffery, it’s hard to match a tom turkey. Spring mornings, the woods resound with his gobbling, and hens a half-mile away know where to find him.

One moment, he’s walking around like an oversized banty rooster on stilts. Then it’s as if he inflates his entire body. No longer spindly, he looks like a body-builder festooned in copper feathers. His pecs bulge. His tail erupts into a flamboyant fan. His head turns bright red. He drops his wings and drags them in the dust as he rotates 360 degrees.

Those guys from Shishmaref, they could learn something from him.

Spring in the North. Guys, doing what guys do best. Looking good.

Taking care of business.

Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer.

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