RUFFED GROUSE – (Bonasa umbellus)
DESCRIPTION: The Ruffed Grouse is a game bird whose main color is beige with brown streaks and mottling, offering excellent camouflage. The bill is short and conical, and brown. The legs and feet are beige, and the legs are covered with feathers. Sexes are mostly similar. During courtship the male displays its tail, showing a dark brown border edged in light beige. Ruffed grouse are around 45 cm (18 inches) long. There are many subspecies.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Bonasa-umbellus – for ‘drumming’ see below.
NAME: The English name ‘Ruffed’ refers to the long brown ruff feathers on each side of the neck of the male. The name ‘Grouse’ would derive from Old French to mean a kind of ‘partridge’. The Latin genus name ‘Bonasa’ would have two meanings as per Choate – the first would be a ‘wild ox’, comparing the bird’s drumming sound to a bull bellowing. The other meaning would be ‘good roast’. As for the Latin species name ‘umbellus’, it refers to the bird’s neck tufts.
The Ruffed Grouse is often called ‘Partridge’, although it is part of a different subfamily – Perdicinae for the partridge, Tetraonidae for the ruffed grouse.
HABITAT: Ruffed grouse are found in thick young forests, with a preference for aspen.
DIET: The diet of the ruffed grouse is quite varied, and can include all kinds of plant material, insects, and invertebrates. In the winter it feeds on tree flower buds, including in orchards, which can become a problem for the orchard owners.
NESTING: The nest is usually built on the ground near a log or a tree trunk, and giving a view of the surroundings for predators. Around ten beige eggs are laid, which are incubated by the female. The chicks are able to feed themselves soon after birth, but the hen is caring for them (brooding).
DISTRIBUTION: This bird’s year-round range includes most of Canada up to the tree line, and the northern part of the United States. Most of the population resides in Canada.
ON PEI: The ruffed grouse breeds on Prince Edward Island and is a year-round resident. Its presence on the island is stable throughout the seasons, and is fairly common.
CONSERVATION: In spite of being a ‘game’ bird regularly hunted in many areas, numbers of this species appear stable, although the population goes into poorly understood cycles unrelated to hunting. The Ruffed Grouse Society has programs in place to conserve favorable habitat
NOTES: This is a very well-camouflaged bird, and many people walking in the forest have been startled by a ruffed grouse suddenly jumping in front of them and flying away noisily (called ‘flushing’).
Drumming: ‘Drumming’ by the ruffed grouse is performed with rapid wing beats. It is mostly done by males to protect their territory and attract mates. This sound can be heard in the forest from as far as half a kilometer away (a quarter of a mile). There are many videos available of ruffed grouse drumming, for example here or here.
Predators: The ruffed grouse itself is a source of food for many natural predators, such as Great horned owls, foxes or coyotes.
They are not social like the partridges and do not gather in coveys. They are usually very quiet birds and will hide under the snow.
Tame grouse: The ruffed grouse is supposed to be a wild bird, but some can become quite tame, and one local example can be found here (published with the author’s permission. This tame ruffed grouse can also be seen in some photos below, with more here.) And here’s another example of a male grouse following a human being.
The ruffed grouse is the state bird of Pennsylvania.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Sharp-tailed Grouse, Spruce Grouse – Ruffed grouse can also be confused with the Grey Partridge, although they have a different habitat – woodlands for the ruffed grouse, open country for the grey partridge.
REFERENCES: http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/birds/ruffed-grouse.html (Hinterland Who’s Who)
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/ruffedgrouse.htm (New Hampshire PBS)
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/ruffed-grouse (Missouri Department of Conservation)
RUFFED GROUSE – (Bonasa umbellus)