Ruffed Grouse – Bonasa umbellus

Ruffed Grouse – Bonasa umbellus

Ruffed Grouse BWCA

If you have ever walked along trails in the woods in northern Minnesota, you have likely spooked a Ruffed Grouse, sending it flying away in a sudden explosion of sound. It is very easy to walk right past these birds and never see them unless you scare them up, due to their coloration. As you can see in the photo above, they blend in very well.

The Ruffed Grouse is a popular game bird in Minnesota, and are similar in size to a small chicken (about 12″ tall and weighing roughly 1.5 pounds).  They are found in roughly the eastern two thirds of the state, with a preference for aspen forests and early succession mixed deciduous woods. Both males and females have a short crest on their heads, although the males’ crest is slightly larger. Their tails appear rounded in flight. Male Ruffed Grouse are often shown in photos displaying their large neck ruffs, which is a courtship display.

Along with displaying their neck ruffs, Ruffed Grouse are known for drumming during spring courtship. The males find drumming logs – a fallen log on which they can beat their wings in rapid succession, producing a low, quick drumming sound. I often feel the drumming before my ears register it; it starts out as a slow thumping and then speeds up. Follow this link to view a video from the Minnesota DNR of a Ruffed Grouse drumming. The sound is produced by air being compressed under the birds’ wings. The males drum in hopes of attracting a female to mate with. Males may mate with multiple females, and do not participate in raising the young. In Minnesota, the peak of mating season is late April.

Ruffed Grouse eat mostly plant matter – they prefer the buds and twigs of aspen, and also eat leaves, catkins, ferns, fruits, insects (the primary food of the chicks) and acorns. Many animals prey on Ruffed Grouse, including Great Horned Owls,  Northern Goshawks, Canada lynx, foxes, fishers, and bobcats. In general, however, the Ruffed Grouse is a short-lived bird; few make it past the age of three.

Once grouse are no longer chicks, they are generally loners (except during the mating season). We happened across this inquisitive lone Ruffed Grouse on a trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Ruffed Grouse in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

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