RUFFED GROUSE – (Bonasa umbellus)
The Ruffed Grouse is often called ‘Partridge’, although it is part of a different family. 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’). The English name ‘Ruffed’ refers to long brown ruff feathers on each side of the male neck. The main color is beige with brown streaks, and sexes are mostly similar. During courtship the male displays its tail, showing a dark brown border. Ruffed grouse are around 45 cm (18 in.) long.
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.
The diet of the ruffed grouse is quite varied, and can include all kings of vegetal material, insects, and invertebrates. However when the snow cover prevents them from accessing those foods, the birds will feed on tree flower buds, including in orchards, which can become a problem for the orchard owners.
The ruffed grouse itself is a source of food for many natural predators, such as Great horned owls, foxes or coyotes.
The nest is usually built on the ground near a log or a tree trunk, and giving a view of the surroundings for predators.
Ruffed grouse are found in thick young forests, with a preference for aspen. 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.
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.)
The ruffed grouse breeds on PEI and is a year-round resident. Its presence on the island is stable throughout the seasons, and is fairly common. Its whole 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.
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.