THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Listening to the ruffed grouse | Lifestyles
The ruffed grouse is not a well-known game bird in this region, but it is a very unique bird.
It is above all a herbivore. The main diet is the buds, leaves, catkins, and fruits of aspen, cherries, birch, raspberries, hop horn beams, and prickly apples. Although some insects are eaten, they do not constitute a large part of their diet as adults.
Grouse consume large amounts of buds and twig tips, allowing them to survive in northern ranges much better than other game birds.
One thing that is unique about them is the “drum” which is done by the male. The sound starts off as a slow beat, then increases to a very fast rate and eventually ends with a single weak beat. The bird’s wings flapping in front of its chest against the air produce it while the bird is standing. The sound is very misleading when it comes to direction and distance.
This “drumming” is part of the courtship display, which begins at the end of March and reaches its peak in late April or early May. However, you can hear it anytime of the year.
The male usually has a favorite log, stump, or rock he “drums” on and can be used every year.
Another part of courtship is strutting by the male, but is also used by both sexes throughout the year to show off. The tail is raised and spread while the wings are lowered until they drag on the ground. The head is held back and the black strawberry around the neck is lifted and spread out in an almost complete circle. Slow, deliberate steps are then taken as they strut.
One of the interesting features of this bird’s feet are the rod-shaped appendages, which grow along the sides of the toes in the fall. These structures actually act like snowshoes to help them walk on snow.
When it comes to nesting, this bird stays on the ground and prepares little nest. It is basically a cup-shaped depression among the leaves. They usually nest at the base of a tree, stump, next to a log, on a rock ledge, or at the edge of a brush pile.
The female lays about 11 eggs over a 17 day period. Although quick to desert a nest early in incubation, they hold on very firmly later. In one case, a female remained on a nest during a forest fire and was actually sprayed with water.
The mother will also simulate a broken wing or leg to lure an intruder away from the nest.
Population cycles in grouse last about nine years between highs and lows.
Grouse normally roost in the evening, but they do so during the day, especially in winter. They will choose a protected location such as an evergreen grove where they will wait for a storm to end or just soak up the sun. They can perch on the ground or in a tree.
Another good habit they have in winter, especially when the temperatures are very low, is to burrow in the snow for protection. If the snow is deep and soft, they will dive into it from a tree or directly from the flight. They can stay in this “snow cave” for several days if the weather is severe. They’ll really piss you off when one of them blows up from one of those “snow caves!” The downside to this “caving” is that they are very vulnerable to predators, especially foxes who smell them and then pounce on them while they are in the snow.
I had a unique “love affair” with a grouse at camp many years ago that lasted for three years. Next week, I will tell you about this very unique experience.
On the weekend of August 7, I found a pair of binoculars resting on the railing of the Mallard Overlook (Ringneck Marsh) at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Apparently someone must have left forgetting that they had put the binoculars on the railing. If these are your binoculars, call me with a good description – I have them.
Doug Domedion, outdoor enthusiast and nature photographer, lives in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or [email protected]