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Ruffed Grouse Game Birds

Updated on September 10, 2014

Ruffed Grouse In The Winter

The Ruffed Grouse are considered gaming birds for hunters and are widely distributed within the United States, and present in Canada Provinces.

Red-phased grouse become more prevalent in milder climates, and the gray birds are more abundant where winter climates are more severe.

Ruffed Grouse are normally solitary in their social behavior.

While walking in the woods you may often hear them take flight but never see them. They are very quick and disappear into the woods.

In the spring of the year we quite often hear the drumming sounds of the mating call around the wooded areas near our home.

Ruffed Grouse
Ruffed Grouse


Ruffed Grouse are brownish colored birds larger than pigeons, living their entire lives in wooded areas. The males are usually slightly larger than the females.

The name given as "Ruffed" came from some of the long, shiny, black or brown colored neck feathers that are mostly prominent on the male.

When the male is in full display in defense of his territory, or displaying himself to a possible mate, these feathers are extended into a ruff up state which, together with a full fanned tail, makes him look up to twice his normal size.

The best external basis for determining a male from a female is a measurement of tail length.

Across most of its range, a fully grown tail feather over 5-7/8 in. in length usually belongs to a male; less than 5-1/2 in. to a hen.

Another way is to examine the feathers on the bird's rump. If there are 2 or 3 spots, the bird is probably a male; if none or one, a female.

Red-phased grouse become more prevalent in milder climates, and the gray birds are more abundant where winter climates are more sever

Male Drumming
Male Drumming

Male Habits - Drumming

They do not develop bonds between male and female, although there is usually at least one hen in the woods for every male.

Male Ruffed Grouse are aggressively territorial throughout their adult lives, defending for their almost exclusive use a piece of woodland that is 6-10 acres in extent. Usually this is shared with one or two hens.

The male grouse proclaims his property rights by engaging in a "drumming" display. This sound is made by beating his wings against the air to create a vacuum. The drummer usually stands on a log, stone or mound of dirt when drumming, and this object is called a "drumming log." He does not strike the log to make the noise, he only uses the "drumming log" as the stage for his display.

The drumming stage selected by a male is most likely to be about 10-12 inches above the ground, in moderately dense brush where he can maintain unrestricted surveillance over the terrain for about 60 ft.

Many young males claim a drumming log by the time they are 20 weeks old; and once they have done so, most will spend the remainder of their lives within a two to third hundred yard radius of that log.

grouse nest
grouse nest

Nesting - Brood Raising

Drumming occurs throughout the year, so long as his "log" is not under snow. In the spring, drumming occurs more frequent and longer as the cock grouse reveals his location to hens seeking a mate.

Courtship is a brief event then the hen wanders away in search of a nesting site, and there is no further association between the male grouse and his mate. The brood of chicks she produces are fully raised by her.

Nests are hollowed out depressions in the leaf litter, normally at the base of a tree, stump or in a clump of brush.

She usually places the nest in a position that allows her to maintain a watch for approaching predators. A nest has to be placed so that it will not be discovered by a predator during a period of at least 5 weeks.

The nest contains 8 to 14 buff colored eggs when complete which may take up to two weeks.

Then incubation takes another 24 to 26 days before the eggs hatch.

The chicks start feeding on their own when they are very small. They are mobile and may move a 1/4 mile a day when they are 3 or 4 days old and start flying at five days.

The growing chicks need a great deal of animal protein for muscle and feather development early in life. They will feed heavily on insects and other small animals for the first few weeks, then shifting to a diet of green plant materials and fruits as they become bigger.

When about 16 to 18 weeks old, the young grouse passes out of its period of adolescence and breaks away to find a home range of its own.

Some young hens move about two weeks later to as far away as 15 miles looking for a place where they will spend the rest of their lives.

Grouse Facts

During the winter, the Ruffed Grouse may dive into soft snow to spend the night.

Falling snow can hide the evidence of their entry.

The toes of Ruffed Grouse grow projections off their sides in winter, making them look similar to combs. These projections are believed to act much like snowshoes to help the grouse walking on snow.

Ruffed Grouse populations go through 8 to 11 year cycles of increasing and decreasing numbers.

These cycles can be due to predator populations increasing and decreasing.

Ruffed Grouse nests occasionally are stolen by Ring-necked Pheasants or Wild Turkeys that lay eggs in the nests.

Young birds collect in temporary loose flocks in the fall and winter.


Dark Color Exsisting Range

Grouse Remarks

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      Pete Schultz 7 years ago

      nice lens, good information and nice photos....keep up the good work.