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What is a Ruffed Grouse?

S. Ashraf
S. Ashraf

The ruffed grouse, Bonasa umbellus, is a medium-size member of the grouse family. Ruffed grouse are about 16 to 19 inches (41 to 48 cm) long, weigh 16 to 27 ounces (0.45 to 0.77 kg) and have a wingspan of about 22 to 25 inches (56 to 64 cm). In color, the ruffed grouse is reddish-brown and has a spotted back. The markings of the males and females are similar, with both having a hidden black ruff of feathers around their necks. Distinctively, the birds have prominent tails with 18 broad feathers that look fan-shaped when opened.

Geographically, this type of grouse is widespread in North America. In the northern latitudes, it is found throughout Canada and Alaska. Its range includes 38 of the 49 continental United States. The ruffed grouse is a game bird that is hunted from the Cascade Mountains in California, through Wyoming, Utah and Minnesota, as far east as the Appalachian Mountains and as far south as the mountains of Georgia. These birds do not migrate and often live their entire life in an area no bigger than 40 acres (16 hectares).

A ruffled grouse may feed on frogs.
A ruffled grouse may feed on frogs.

The preferred habitat of the ruffed grouse is mixed and deciduous forests in cold, rough terrain that has trees such as alders, birch or poplars. It likes forests that are dim and quiet and have deep thickets and dense undergrowth with only scattered clearings. This grouse occasionally can be found in an overgrown pasture, but it doesn’t like an open field and is only rarely found in one. In the winter, ruffed grouse adapt to the cold terrain by growing a web between their toes, making their feet like snowshoes, so they can easily walk on snow.

Ruffed grouse feed mainly on tree buds and fruits. In the summer, it will eat seeds and fruits. In the winter, feeds on buds after flying into bushes or tree branches. It also will eat some insects and small snakes or frogs.

With the exception of mating season, ruffed grouse are solitary birds. Breeding season is roughly from mid-spring to late spring. Ruffed grouse nest on the ground and usually build nests at the bottom of a tree or stump. The female lays a couple of eggs every few days, and it will take her about 17 days to lay a full clutch of 10-12 eggs. The chicks hatch after about three weeks and remain with the female until they are fully grown in about four months.

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    • A ruffled grouse may feed on frogs.
      A ruffled grouse may feed on frogs.