The Ruffed Grouse of the Pacific Northwest
The Ruffed Grouse, can be found in all areas of Canada and they are quite abundant on the BC Coast. The male ruffed grouse is about the size of a farm yard chicken. The females are a bit smaller. The ruffed grouse has a broad flat tail that is usually held down but that may be erected and spread into a half circle when they display during mating season.
The plumage ranges in color from light grey to a reddish brown. The colors are related to their habitat with dark colored grouse who’s territories are in our old growth island forests and lighter colors on those living in second growth areas, this ability to be different colors in different areas helps camouflage them from predators.
Males have a larger tail with a bigger bar of dark in it than the females. In the spring, the male ruffed grouse makes a drumming sound with his wings, he cups his wings and rapidly beats them against the air to make this sound. This drumming noise is made to attract hens when they are ready for mating and to let other males know that this is his territory. They may have a special log that is hollow that they stand when drumming to amplify the sound, a drum log.
The ruffed grouse is common throughout most of Canada. It does not migrate and, once established, lives all its life within a few hectares. When startled, it will fly with a distinctive burst of movement and sound.
One time when l lived in the interior, l was moose hunting on an early winter morning, l was walking on top of the snow, slowly, watching for moose when all of a sudden two grouse burst out of the snow right at my feet, snow flying, wings beating with the drumming sound. scared the heck out of me. I had to sit down and laugh after that one.
The ruffed grouse is specially adapted to handle winter weather. Where the snow is deep, soft, and persistent, they will create tunnels under it where they can forage for food, keep warmer and hide from predators.
The ruffed grouse feeds on buds, leaves, and twigs. Catkins and the buds of deciduous trees such as willow, maple and alders are its staple food on the island.
Spring is mating time. The male Ruffed Grouse can get rather stupid at this time and l have even had them challenge my truck. Hens are attracted by drumming. Both males and females mate with any grouse that presents itself at this time.
After mating, the hen selects a nest site, her nest is built on the ground, quite often at the base of a tree, stump, or rock outcrop. The nest is a shallow bowl in the ground, lined with whatever materials are at hand and her feathers. After laying up to 12 eggs, she incubates them for about 24 days, they hatch in early June. Only one clutch is produced a year. The hen and chicks will leave the nest within a day after they hatch.
The hen and chicks behave in many ways that protect the young, particularly before they can fly. For example, when startled by intruders the hen distracts attention from her chicks by dragging one wing on the ground as if it were broken. This gives her chicks a chance to hide.
In autumn, when the young are almost fully grown, there is another period of relatively intense activity. Males begin to drum again, and young grouse disperse throughout the forest, seeking a place of their own to live. Some may establish themselves on the territories of old birds that have died.
Grouse populations are sparse in some regions and dense in others, for example, the forests around Campbell River are relatively lacking in ruffed grouse but go west to the gold river area and there is an abundance of them.