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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Journals Lewis and Clark as Naturalists

Greater Sage Grouse

Capt. Lewis, June 5, 1805--I saw a flock of the mountain cock or a large species of heath hen with a long pointed tail which the Indians informed us were common in the Rocky Mountains.

Capt. Lewis, Aug 12, 1805--we saw several of the heath cock with a long pointed tail and a uniform dark brown colour…   they are much large than the common dung-hill fowls and in their habits and manner of flying resemble the growse or prarie hen.

Capt. Clark, Oct 17, 1805--sent out Hunters to shute the Prarie Cock, a large fowl which I have seen only on this river, several of which I have killed.  they are the size of a small turkey, of the Phesant kind, one I killed on the waters edge to day measured from Beak to the end of the 2 feet 6 and ¾ inches; from the extremities of its wings 3 feet 6 inches; the tail feathers is 13 inches long.  they feed on grasshoppers and Seed of the wild plant which is also peculiar to this river and the upper parts of the Missoury somewhat resembling the whins.

Capt. Lewis, March 2, 1806--The cock of the plains is found in the plains of Columbia and are in great abundance from the entrance of the S.E. fork of the columbia to that of Clark's river.  this bird is about 2/3rds the size of a turkey.  the  beak is large short curved and convex.  the upper exceeding the lower chap.  the nostrils are large and the beak black.  the colour is an uniform mixture of dark brown reather boderdring on a dove colour, redish and yellowish brown with some small black specks.  in this mixture the dark brown prevails and has a slight cast of the dove colour at a little distance.  the wider side of the large feathers of the wings are a dark brown only.  the tails is composed of 19 feathers of which that in the center is the longest, and the remaining 9 on each side deminish by pairs as they receede from the center; that is only one fether is equal in length to one equa distant from the center of the tail on the opposite side.  the tail when foalded comes to a very sharp point.  an appears long in proportion to the body.  in the act of flying the tail resembles that of a wild pegeon.  tho' motion of the wings is much that of the phesant and grous.  they have ofur toes on each foot of which the hinder one is short.  the leg is covered with feathers about half the distance of the between the knee and the foot.  when the wing is expanded there are wide openings between it's feathers the plumeage being so narrow that it does not extend from one quill to the other.  the wings are also porportionably short, reather more so than those of the phesant or grouse.  the baits of this bird are much the same as those of the grous.  only that the food of this fowl is almost entirely that of the leaf and buds of the pulpy leafed thorn; nor do I ever recollect seeing this bird but in the neighborhood of that shrub.  they sometimes feed on the prickley pear.  the gizzard of it is large and much less compressed and muscular than in most fowls;  in short it resembles a maw quite as much as  a gizzard.  when they fly they make a cackling noise something like the dunghill fowl. the following is a likeness of the head and beak…  the feathers about it's head are pointed and stiff.  some hairs about the base of the beak.  feathers short fine and stif about the ears.

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