The Ruffed grouse, belonging to family Phasianidae, is a non-migratory, medium-sized bird. It is one of the ten grouse species native to North America. It is the only species that belongs to the genus Bonasa. According to Partners in Flight, their present worldwide breeding population is 18 million, with 86% of them residing in Canada, while the rest are in the United States. It is often confused with partridges.
The scientific name for Ruffed grouse is Bonasa umbellus.
It has fourteen recognized subspecies. They are –
Adult Ruffed grouse are 40 to 50 centimeters in length, and their weight is between 450 to 750 grams. Their wingspan is 50 to 64 centimeters. This species has two prominent morphs – gray and brown. In the gray morph individuals, the plumage is grayish-brown in the back, nape, and the head; while the breast plumage is pale.
The flanks and the underparts are mostly white. The tail is grayish-brown with well-ordered barring, along with a subterminal black band. The tail of the brown morphs is of the same pattern and color. However, the rest of the feathers are more brownish giving individuals more uniform appearance. The plumage of the underparts is a lot darker compared to the gray morphs. Both male and female possess a crest on their head that lies flat sometimes. Males have unimpaired tail bands, while female often has a cracked subterminal tail band.
This bird prefers to inhabit hardwood forests, mixed woods, sheltered swamps, and deep thickets.
In some of its native ranges, they are also found in quiet and dim woodlands, forest edges, as well as forest openings. They live in riparian habitats in the Pacific Northwest.
This species is found in Canada and the United States, including Alaska, Georgia, California, Wyoming, and Utah.
In the central US, scattered populations live in Arkansas, North and South Dakota. Introduced populations are found in Nevada and Newfoundland.
They are primarily solitary; but at times, they live in small groups, such as when families are together, or around productive feeding spots in fall or winter. They are known as a parental bird. The female takes care of its offsprings until they are able to roost on their own. Males aggressively defend their territories throughout their adult lives. In their territorial display that mostly occurs during mating season, they fan-out their tails, standing on a fallen log or stone, and ‘drumming’ in the air with their wings. The sound of the ‘drumming’ can be heard from a long distance. The ‘drumming’ begins slowly and suddenly the tempo goes high. Researchers explain this ‘drumming’ as an expression of vitality and vigor. During mating season, this act also works as a warning to other males. The drumming may last for 8 to 10 seconds, during which the wingbeats may go up to fifty times. At times, a nearby male responds to this behavior in a similar fashion. They are quite hard to spot as their plumage works as a great camouflage against forest floors. During winter in northern ranges, they often bury themselves in the snow at night as it offers insulating cover. Their southern population hides in dense conifers in order to save themselves from cold winds. Both male and female can perform tail displays.
One male mate with more than one female. The breeding nest is made by the female in a dense cover (at the base of a tree, or next to a rock or log).
The nest is actually a big dent lined with soft feathers, needles, grass, leaves, etc. Female lay one egg each day until her clutch is complete. One clutch may consist of 9 to 12 eggs. Female alone incubates the eggs. The incubation process may go on for 23 to 27 days. The chicks can leave the nest shortly after hatching. The female lead them to the feeding sites. The young ones take their first flight when they are 8 – 10 weeks old.
Adult Ruffed grouse are omnivores. They primarily feed on plant materials, such as leaves, seeds, buds, berries, fruits, and twigs.
Occasionally, their diet also includes small snakes, frogs, snails, spiders, and insects. Juveniles are mostly insectivorous.
In the wild, their lifespan is around 8 or 9 years.
They are mostly quiet. At times, males emit hissing notes. Females also make a hiss-like call, and a ‘Peta-Peta’ notes before flushing. They produce low-pitched, cooing notes in order to gather their broods.
Habitat loss in its native range may prove to be fatal in the future. But their mortality rate is increasing as the West Nile virus came along.
Bonasa umbellus is fairly widespread and common in its native range. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept this bird in the ‘Least Concern’ category.
Once, this species was a popular game bird in North America. Eventually, this popularity led authorities to bring forth game management efforts. However, regulated hunting still goes on in most of its ranges.
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