Connecticut Audbon Society

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Ruffed Grouse: Bird Finder for April 16

Ruffed Grouse, Horsefly Peninsula, Quesnel Lake, British ColumbiaRuffed Grouse
Bonasa umbellus

Ruffed Grouse are chicken like, medium-sized game birds of mixed coniferous and deciduous forests. Although their numbers in Connecticut are greatly diminished, listen this month for the distinctive and unmistakable drumming sound the males make to attract a mate and ward off rivals.

What it looks like: The Ruffed Grouse is a relatively small-sized grouse that the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology describes as “intricately patterned with dark bars and spots on either a reddish-brown or grayish background. Dark bars down the side of the neck continue and widen on the belly. The tail is finely barred, with one wide, black band near the tip.” The male has a black “ruff” on its neck that really stands out when it is drumming.

Where and How to Find it: Ruffed Grouse especially like forests where small patches have been disturbed by logging, fire or some major weather event and where shrubby vegetation has developed after a few years. In Connecticut, Ruffed Grouse can frequently be found in between these more open transition areas and dense forest. Old farmer fields and pasture areas were also once particularly good grouse habitat in Connecticut.

Although once common in the state, the Ruffed Grouse can now regularly be found only in the forested areas of the northwest corner of Connecticut. Use eBird to help you see or hear a grouse drumming this month. Click Explore Data and then Species Maps; insert “ruffed grouse” for species, and chose “year round past 10 years” for date and “CT” for location

If you are close enough to hear it, the drumming is the best way to locate grouse in spring. Drumming results from an individual male, usually standing on a log or elevated area, bracing his tail and then rotating his wings rapidly forward and backward to create a series of “mini sonic booms” that start off slowly and get faster over a 10 second period. The wings may have vibrated as many as 50 times before ending. If you are unfamiliar with the sound (or if you haven’t heard it in years), it’s worth listening to. 

Other interesting facts: Ruffed Grouse largely eat the buds, twigs and catkins of trees within its range. In Connecticut those includes birch, willow and cottonwood. The bird is frequently found along stream corridors or wetlands. Although Ruffed Grouse usually roost in evergreen trees or thick shrubs, they have also been known to fly into deep, light snow to roost. If you flush a grouse while walking along a wood road in a forest, you will be startled by the thunderous takeoff. When with young, hens will often attempt to lead potential predators away by feigning a broken wing. 

Conservation Status: Although populations of grouse fluctuate naturally due to availability of food, shelter and severity of the weather, in Connecticut the population has been declining since the 1960s, and Ruffed Grouse is no longer found in coastal counties. 

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has an ongoing annual drumming survey in April. Observers travel two-kilometer routes starting a half-hour before sunrise and stopping every two hundred meters for four minutes to listen for drumming.

A number of management measures have been developed to maintain the scrubby openings that grouse need. See the Coverts Project, the Grouse Society literature and Habitat Management Programs of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which Connecticut Audubon Society is participating in at its Croft Preserve in Goshen. These programs have maintained the Ruffed Grouse in Connecticut in the face of significant habitat loss.

This week’s Connecticut Audubon Society Bird Finder was written by Michael Aurelia, a member of our Board of Directors, and edited by Tom Andersen, director of communications.

Photo by Alan D. Wilson,






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