The Bonasa Umbellus or Ruffed Grouse can be found in the forests of the Appalachian Mountains in Canada. These non-migratory medium sized grouse are often referred to as a partridge – which is technically incorrect. The grouse is a woodland bird and not normally found in open areas and is often confused with the Grey Partridge by hunters.
There are two main varieties of Ruffed Grouse. The Grey variety has a grey/brown coloured back, neck and head while the breast is light. There is often a lot of white on the bird’s underside and flanks and the throat of the bird is usual a lighter colour. The brown variety has the same colour tail but the entire plumage will normally be brown in colour. This will give the brown Ruffed Grouse a much more uniform appearance, save for the tail. Generally speaking, the more humid the conditions, the more likely the brown variety will thrive.
Ruffs are located on the neck on both males and females. There is often also a flat lying crest on the top of the head. However, it can be difficult to tell the sexes apart as they are of similar size and have very similar markings. It is common for males to have an unbroken tail band whereas a female will normally have a sub-terminal tail band. Females can be most accurately identified by a single white dot on the rump feathers. Where the feathers have more than one dot, the bird is probably a male.
As with most of the grouse family, the Ruffed Grouse spends a lot of time on the ground. However, when surprised they are known to suddenly explode into flight with the noisy flapping of their wings. This variety of grouse seems to prefer woodland with substantial amounts of aspen. They feed on a mixture of vegetation, berries and insects and prefer to forage for their food in trees or on the ground. It is the bird’s ability to survive on a huge range of different foods that makes it able to survive in a variety of different environments across North America. The bird has been known to feed on snakes and lizards.
Females are attracted for mating by the drumming and loud beating of the wings, sometimes on a log. Grouse nests are usually placed near trees in depressions during the mating season in April. Females can lay anything from ten to fourteen eggs that normally begin to hatch in twenty three days. Chicks are fully grown in only sixteen weeks and leave the hen sometime in late September. The male never play a part in the raising of young.
Due to the loss of woodland in North America, the continent’s Ruffed Grouse population has been the subject of severe decline in that last few decades. Numbers on Canada are relatively healthy and the species is not on the threatened list of the IUCN. However, the ideal conditions for grouse are large areas of well-established forest. Populations seem to fluctuate in cycles and can often decrease significantly without a clear indication of why this happens. The Ruffed Grouse Society is a charity which dedicates itself to the preservation of the grouse’s natural habitat – the forest. This environment is critical in the preservation of the grouse as well as songbirds.
The hunting of ruffed grouse is common in northwest USA and Canada. Although shotguns are a popular hunting method, it is also common to hunt grouse with dogs. Hunting can become a very difficult activity as the bird likes to forage for its food in dense foliage and woodland. Their plumage acts as a very effective form of camouflage and spotting them can be very difficult – although made significantly easier in snowy conditions. As with most forest wildlife, foraging grouse leave trails which can be picked up on by experienced hunters. Good eyes, ears and a lot of stamina are required for the successful hunting of grouse. Their trails are signified by feathers on the ground and on twigs in the surrounding areas.
The ruffed grouse will often be spotted early in the morning and in late afternoon, seeking gravel and clover along road beds. This is often a great place to hunt them. The birds use this gravel to clear their feathers of irritating pests. These areas can also be identified by disturbed areas of soil with feathers littering the immediate area. Grouse may return to these locations to mate and socialise in the afternoons. The grouse cycle refers to the mysterious population fluctuations that many experts find hard to explain. It would appear that these cycles are independent of the amount hunting that occurs in the area.