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Grouse General

Grouse General

Grouse was commonly eaten by many cultures including the Coast Salish, Thompson (N'laka'pamux), Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw), Chilcotin, Shuswap, Bella Coola (Nuxalk), Kitimat (Haisla), Gitksan (Gitxsan), Tahltan, Upper Tanana, Yukon cultures from Haines Junction, Han, Kutchin (Gwich’in), Round Lake Ojibwa (Anishinabek), Cree (Attawapiskat, Moose River Basin, James Bay, Mistissini), Montagnais (Innu), Algonquian and Iroquoian cultures of the Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley and Great Lakes and Greenland Inuit [1-25]. Spuzzum of the Fraser Canyon, Shuswap, Hare (Sahtu) and Labrador Inuit are reported to have eaten grouse [26-29]. Many other cultures consumed grouse, but to a lesser extent. Coast Salish often gathered grouse eggs [30, 31].


Grouse was hunted at various times of year depending on culture and region. Han are reported to have consumed grouse year-round [24]. Some cultures hunted grouse in spring: these include the Katzie, Waswanipi and Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Conne River [32-34]. The Dogrib of Lac la Marte hunted in October [35]. The Micmac also sought grouse in fall, from September to December [33, 34]. The Waswanipi hunted grouse intermittently in fall [32]. When food was in short supply in winter, grouse was an important contribution to Arctic and subarctic diets [36]. The Katzie, Eyak and Micmac were known to eat grouse in winter, particularly in January and February [4, 33, 34, 37]. The Waswanipi also hunted grouse in winter [32], as did the Vanta Kutchin [38]. The Nuxalk sought grouse fall and early winter [39, 40]. Ontario First Nations relied on grouse when larger game was scarce, usually in winter [41].

Grouse were trapped with snares and nets, shot with bows and arrows and rifles; bolas, slingshots and well-thrown rocks were also used. Throughout the year, Yukon women are reported to have set snares among cut branches of pine or spruce trees. They would return a few days later to collect the trapped birds. Cree and Yukon hunters used snares hung from poles to trap birds sitting in trees [36, 42]. Other cultures known to snare grouse include the Kalispel, Salish, Tahltan, Upper Stalo and Kutchin [15, 43-46]. In times of scarcity, Montana Flathead would also snare grouse [47]. Kutchin often trapped forest-dwelling grouse with snares made of stick fences lined with thin wires. While approaching the bait inside the fence, the birds would be caught in the wire [25]. Tlingit of Southeast Alaska caught grouse using a snare consisting of a long green root that could be put over the head of the bird and pulled tight. This method worked well when grouse were perched on a low branch [48, 49].

Upper Stalo of the Fraser Valley used nets to trap grouse [44]. Shoshone hunters would wear antelope disguises and herd grouse toward large nets suspended in trees. When the birds were under the net, hunters would drop the nets on top of them [50]. The Tanaina used bolas in summer and autumn [15]; Coast Salish boys/young men and Waswanipi used slingshots [30, 32]. Skilled Carrier hunters are reported to have killed grouse with well-thrown stones [51].

Bows and arrows were frequently used by the Kalispel, Central Coast Salish, Upper Stalo and Tanaina [15, 44, 45]. The Kaska’s grouse-hunting arrows were tipped with special owl feathers and bunting arrows [36, 52]. The Tahltan also used blunt arrows for hunting grouse [46].

James Bay Cree women often hunted grouse [21]. Northern Algonquian women were also responsible for shooting grouse and other land birds. Rifles were sometimes used by female hunters [36].


After slaughter, the grouse was usually plucked and boiled, but sometimes roasted or dried. The Coast Salish cooked their grouse by folding the wings and burying the whole bird, still covered in feathers, under a pile of ashes. When the meat was cooked through, the skin was removed for eating [4]. Indigenous People of Kitimat would boil the birds in baskets with water heated with hot stones [53].

The Gitksan consumed grouse freshly cooked, half dried or fully dried. While on the trail they would bake grouse by covering the bird with a thick coat of mud, placing it in hot coals, and waiting for the mud to be baked hard. The grouse was removed and the mud was cracked open. The feathers would adhere to the mud, so that the grouse was plucked, cooked and ready for feasting. For drying and smoking, the birds were boned and opened, the intestines removed and the carcasses hung in the smoke house. The birds were put in the fire to burn off the feathers, and the bodies were cleaned. They were then laid out flat and smoked whole [7].

Like the Kitimat, the Tahltan boiled grouse in birch bark containers by dropping hot stones in water. More often, however, the birds were roasted whole on spits above a fire [46, 54]. The Upper Tanana would pluck, clean and boil the birds [16].

Yukon cultures are reported to have particularly enjoyed the grouse for its dark meat. Grouse were often roasted on a type of grill. Prior to cooking, the feathers were singed off or plucked and the birds were gutted. Two freshly peeled willow branches pierced the bodies. About six birds could be hung, three on either side of a central handle. The grill was hung from a stick, lodged in the ground and tilted towards the fire and turned throughout the cooking. Roasting usually took about an hour. Another method involved burying the grouse in hot ashes: the birds were gutted, their stomachs skewered shut with twigs and then buried [36].

Immediately after slaughtering the grouse, Alaskan Kutchin would pluck the carcass; feathers are removed more easily when the bird is still warm. Grouse flesh was often boiled; the liver, heart and gizzard were washed and saved for later eating. The Kutchin would open the gizzard with their fingers to clean it. If many grouse were caught, some were dried or frozen after dressing. The remains, including bones, were given to dogs [55].

The Attawapiskat would boil their grouse with the lungs, heart and kidneys still attached, but the windpipe was never eaten. Boiling was the preferred method because it created a rich broth to drink with the meal. The Attawapiskat did not eat the head, wings or legs [13].

The Mistissini Cree plucked the breast feathers as soon as the grouse was killed. Upon the hunter’s return to camp, the remaining feathers were removed, even from the head. The neck skin was broken in front, and the esophagus and trachea were separated from the skull. The feet and pinions were severed. The skin was peeled back to remove the viscera. Sometimes the sternum skin was broken and pulled back, and the crop and body contents were removed, except for the trachea. The blood was wiped onto the carcass and it was mounted on a spit for roasting [19].

During hunting trips, Micmac of Conne River would skewer the grouse and roast it over a fire. While traveling, they would take meat from several grouse with them [56].

A successful Montagnais hunter would share grouse with his relatives or distribute the meat at feasts [15].

Uses other than food

Grouse feathers were used to make arrows by the Southern Okanagan, Lillooet, Chilcotin and Tahltan, among others [54, 57-59]. Northwest coast cultures also used grouse feathers and down to stuff bedding and feathers to ornament the head at festivals [6, 57].

In the Yukon, it was believed that if the blood runs from a grouse’s mouth after having been shot, it is a sign that the hunter will soon be lucky in shooting larger game. Also, a hunter would touch the inside of a grouse’s cheek to feel for “a moose head”, another sign that a successful hunt was imminent [36].

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse, also known as chicken, fool hen or spruce hen, is reported to have been eaten by the Hare (Sahtu), Chipewyan of the Stony Rapids Region, Cree (Waswanipi, James Bay) and Labrador Inuit [26, 60-63]. Hare considered Spruce Grouse an easier catch than Sharp-tailed Grouse [28]. The Han described the Spruce Grouse as good food [24]. In the Yukon, men and women sought out Spruce Grouse [36]. Kutchin (Gwich’in) of Peel River hunted Spruce Grouse year-round; they found the bird to be delicious at any time of the year [25]. In winter and in times of scarcity, Spruce Grouse was actively sought out by the Red Earth Cree, Mistissini Cree and Western Abenaki [17-19, 64, 65]. Spruce Grouse was hunted by the Chandalar Kutchin (Gwich’in) and other Athapaskan cultures when larger game was unavailable [66, 67]. The Tlingit, Upper Tanana, Dene/Metis and Attawapiskat are also known to have eaten Spruce Grouse [13, 16, 48, 68, 69]. Cultures living near Wood Buffalo National Park are known to have hunted Spruce Grouse in fall and winter [70, 71]. The Mistissini Cree did not eat Spruce Grouse eggs, as finding the grouse’s nest was thought to bring bad luck [17].


Spruce Grouse is reported to have been hunted with nooses, snares, arrows and guns. Because Spruce Grouse are not easily startled by humans, and can be approached from the front or from the back, the bird is easily captured using pole snares and other methods. The Athapaskan and Algonquian often used pole snares. A noose would hang from the pole, which could be slipped over the bird’s head and jerked tight around its neck [55]. Snares were also frequently used by Mistissini Cree and many others to catch Spruce Grouse [15, 17-19, 72]. The Tahltan made snares with twisted willow bark or caribou or moose sinew. The snares were attached to bent willow branches or poles stuck in the ground and were placed on trails used by the spruce grouse [54]. Waswanipi men also used pole-snares [32]. When Spruce Grouse sat still in trees on cold winter days, Yukon women and young boys were reported to obtain the birds with pole-snares. Spruce Grouse, when sitting motionless, could also be easily hit with rocks [36].

Bella Coola (Nuxalk) used a special bird arrow; cultures including Tahltan used a blunt arrow [4, 15, 54]. The Mistissini hunted spruce grouse with crossbows and arrows [17-19]. Cultures including the Chipewyan reportedly shot these birds with guns [15, 73]. The Kutchin (Gwich’in) have noted that shots to the head or neck were preferred so that the good breast meat was left intact. Men, women and boys would shoot grouse close to the village around willow thickets in the morning and evening. These grouse hunts were often combined with rabbit-hunts [55].

Southern Okanagan women, who were responsible for hunting Spruce Grouse in spring, would tie a noose of Indian hemp to the end of a stick to dangle in front of the bird. Once caught in the loop, the bird’s head was either crushed or cut off [57]. The Carrier easily obtained spruce grouse that were sitting quietly on a branch using sinew snares attached to long poles [51]. The Kutenai (Kootenai) as well as Alaskan and Yukon cultures such as Kaska and Ahtna also used pole snares to catch Spruce Grouse pole-snares [15, 36, 52]. Kaska also hunted Spruce Grouse with arrows tipped with owl feathers [52]. A hunter could also knock the spruce grouse from its branch using a stick [74] or effortlessly hit them with rocks [36].


Southern Okanagan would eat Spruce Grouse flesh, gizzard, liver and heart, but the kidneys were not used. After plucking off the feathers, they would remove the bird’s breasts, cutting them each in half. The birds were usually boiled or roasted [57].

Spruce Grouse were also boiled by the peoples of Kitimat (Haisla). This was done in baskets filled with water, heated with hot stones [53]. The Upper Tanana boiled these birds after plucking and cleaning them [16]. The Sahtu Dene/Metis are also known to have eaten the gizzard and flesh [75]. Attawapiskat women would leave the heart, lungs and kidneys attached when boiling Spruce Grouse, but the head, wings and legs were not eaten. The grouse’s windpipe was never eaten. Boiling was the preferred method, as this created a good broth to drink with the meal [13]. The Chipewyan reportedly boiled Spruce Grouse at the campsite or roasted them over an open fire [73].

Among the Kalispel, larger birds like Spruce Grouse, were reserved for adults, while children ate the smaller birds [45]. Among the Southern Okanagan, Spruce Grouse were often saved for pregnant women. Consuming the heads of these grouse would make the unborn child “good” [57].

The head of a Spruce Grouse could also be used as dice, a common piece in Shuswap games [8].

Ruffed Grouse

Cultures reported to have eaten Ruffed Grouse include those of the west coast, Chipewyan of the Stony Rapids Region, Cree (Waswanipi, Mistissini, James Bay), Onondaga (Iroquois) [17-19, 60-62, 68, 76, 77]. Ruffed Grouse is reported to have been hunted by the Iroquois, Micmac (Mi'kmaq) and Cree among others [1, 78, 79]. Ruffed Grouse was greatly enjoyed by many Quebec Cree [80]. Inuit are reported to have eaten “gray ruffed grouse” [81]. The Ruffed Grouse was well-liked by the Yukon Han and New Brunswick Micmac (Mi'kmaq) [24, 82]. Ruffed Grouse was common fare for the lean months of fall and winter. The Kutchin (Gwich’in) reportedly hunted these game birds in fall and Red Earth Cree sought them in winter [55, 65]. Cultures near Wood Buffalo National Park and the Mistissini were also known to hunt Ruffed Grouse in fall and winter [70, 71].


Ruffed Grouse was hunted mostly fall through winter. Montagnais (Innu) of Lake Melville, Labrador, hunted the highly regarded bird in September [83]. The Waswanipi (Cree) and Southeastern Ojibwa (Anishinabek) hunted these upland fowl in winter [32, 64]. The Micmac of Conne River, Newfoundland, sought Ruffed Grouse in fall through winter [33].

Ruffed Grouse were hunted with snares, bows and arrows, and bare hands. Snares were often used by cultures, including the Coast Salish Tahltan, to catch Ruffed Grouse [15, 36, 54]. The Salish lured grouse with decoys made of twigs [84]. The Ojibway (Anishinabek) of Michigan made box traps of twigs and branches [85]. Male Ruffed Grouse begin making a “drumming” noise in April, making it easy for the hunter to locate it from a distance. While making this drumming sound, the bird becomes oblivious to his surroundings, and could be simply knocked down with a hunter’s stick. The Tahltan are reported to have used this method [48, 54].

In Bella Coola, Nuxalk used special bird arrows for Ruffed Grouse [4], and others such as the Tahltan used blunt arrows [15, 54]. The Coast Salish would capture Ruffed Grouse with the help of bone head arrows [84]. Once shotguns were available, larger quantities of Ruffed Grouse could be killed. Swamps, where flocks fed on crabapples, were ideal locations for hunting. Over forty birds could be shot in one day [15, 84].

The Kalispel hunted with snares or bows and arrows [45]. Labrador Inuit and Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) trapped Ruffed Grouse in the forest [11, 86]. Central Inuit hunted Ruffed Grouse during molting season with arrows. Sometimes hunters would catch Ruffed Grouse by hand [87]. Abitibi stunned grouse with blunt arrows [88]. Micmac brought grouse meat with them when travelling. The birds were placed on sticks to roast over a fire [33].

Ruffed Grouse was also abundant for Ojibway of Michigan. These birds were so tame that children could easily snare them. Simple snares were made of sticks and either sinew or twine. Alternatively, boxes made of branches could serve as grouse traps. Usually, the traps were baited with poplar buds or berries [85]. The Iroquois sought Ruffed Grouse eggs and believed that finding several eggs in a nest foretold of the hunter’s longevity [78].


The Penobscot of Maine consumed Ruffed Grouse immediately after the hunt and some meat was smoke-dried for winter eating; the dried meat was stored in birch-bark containers. Ruffed Grouse meat was usually eaten in a stew; the flesh was boiled in water and fat. Vegetables, beans or squash were sometimes added to make a soup [89]. The Ojibway would also flavour their stews and soups with Ruffed Grouse [85]. Larger Ruffed Grouse were eaten by Kalispel adults [45]. The Ojibway of Michigan cooked Ruffed Grouse in stews and soups to add a tasty flavour [85].

Sharp-tailed Grouse and Greater Prairie Chicken

Sharp-tailed Grouse, commonly referred to as prairie chicken, was consumed in spring by many cultures including Flathead, Kalispel, Southern Okanagan, Plains Cree, among others [45, 47, 57, 75, 90]. The Sharp-tailed Grouse was also hunted by cultures including the Dene/Metis, Hare (Sahtu), Inuvialuit, James Bay Cree, among others [28, 62, 68, 69, 91]. Northwest populations of Sharp-tailed Grouse in Alaska, also referred to as pintails, was particularly enjoyed by the Han [24]. The Kutchin (Gwich’in), cultures near the Wood Buffalo National Park, Red Earth Cree, Chipewyan of Stony Rapids Region [55, 60, 65, 70, 71] reportedly consumed Sharp-tailed Grouse in winter and fall. Cultures present in the northern great plains and reported to have consumed prarie chicken are likely to have harvested both Sharp-tailed Grouse and the similar-appearing Greater Prairie Chicken, a formerly abundant and widespread species now restricted to small remnant populations.

Sharp-tailed Grouse were reportedly shot with blunt arrows or rifles or caught with stationary and hand-operated snares were also used [15]. Southern Okanagan women were responsible for hunting Sharp-tailed Grouse. They would tie a noose of Indian hemp to the end of a stick and hang it in front of the bird. Once caught inside the loop, the bird’s head was either crushed or cut off [57]. Similarly, Plains Cree women caught Sharp-tailed Grouse and likely Greater Prairie Chicken with a horsehair noose hung from arched willow sticks that were planted in the ground [90]. Flathead men of Montana taught their boys to snare Sharp-tailed Grouse and/or Greater Prairie Chicken, a valuable hunting skill used in emergency situations. Sinew was used to make the loops of the snare. When grouse or chickens gathered to perform their nightly mating dances, they would snare their heads or feet in the loops [47].

After plucking off the feathers, Southern Okanagan would remove the breasts, cutting them each in half. Sharp-tailed Grouse were typically roasted or boiled. Sometimes, fledglings, taken from the nest, were roasted as well. The liver, heart and gizzard were eaten, but not the kidneys. The head, including the brain, was sometimes boiled in soup [57]. The Hareskin Dene/Metis (Sahtu) are also reported to have used the entrails as well as the flesh of Sharp-tailed Grouse [75].

Among the Kalispel, larger fowl like Sharp-tailed Grouse were reserved for the adults, while the children ate the smaller birds [45]. The Iroquois restricted meat consumption while taking medicines; upon resuming meat-intake, Sharp-tailed Grouse was commonly the first food eaten [78].

Blue Grouse

West coast cultures commonly ate Blue Grouse [76]. The Tahltan used blunt arrows and Coast Salish used arrows headed with bone. Coast Salish are reported to have used shotguns in more recent times. Blue Grouse are commonly found near swamps, where they feed, and many could be shot in a hunting trip. To improve success, Coast Salish hunters lured Blue Grouse with decoys made of twigs [54, 84]. The Blue Grouse was also snared by the Tlingit of Southeast Alaska [49]. The Tahltan made snares of bark and sinew and sometimes used pole snares [54]. Shuswap hunters would make snares of Indian hemp twine and place this between the limbs of a fir tree. When the grouse moved among the branches, it would become tangled in the snare. Each snare could trap three or four birds [29]. In April, large Blue Grouse begin calling, making them easy to locate. These fat birds are unafraid of approaching hunters, making them an easy target [48]. An Athapaskan woman was reported to say that a “grouse call is like men talking” [92]. The Shuswap reportedly gathered and ate Blue Grouse eggs, taking only a few eggs at a time. The eggs were then pit-cooked [29].


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70.       Wein EE: Nutrient Intakes and Use of Country Foods by Native Canadians Near Wood Buffalo National Park. In.; 1989.

71.       Wein EE, Sabry JH, Evers FT: Food Consumption Patterns and Use of Country Foods by Native Canadians Near Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. Arctic 1991, 44(3):196-205.

72.       Tanner A: Bringing Home Animals: Religious Ideology and Mode of Production of the Mistassini Cree Hunters, vol. 1st edition. London: C. Hurst & Company; 1979.

73.       Irimoto T: Subsistence Activities. In: Chipewyan Ecology: Group Structure and Caribou Hunting System. Volume 1st edition, edn. Osaka, Japan: National Musem of Ethnology; 1981: 100-109.

74.       Turney-High HH: Ethnography of the Kutenai. Menasha, Wisconsin: American Anthropological Association; 1941.

75.       Kuhnlein HV, Appavoo DM, Morrison N, Soueida R, Pierrot P: Use and nutrient composition of traditional Sahtu (Hareskin) Dene/Metis food. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 1994, 7:144-157.

76.       Stephenson PH, Elliot SJ, Foster LT, Harris J: A persistent spirit: towards understanding Aboriginal health in British Columbia. In. Edited by Stephenson PH, Elliot SJ, Foster LT, Harris J, vol. 1. Victoria: Department of Geography, University of Victoria; 1995.

77.       Tuck JA: Onondaga Iroquois PreHistory: A Study in Settlement Archaeology, vol. 1st edition. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press; 1971.

78.       Waugh FW. In: Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation. edn. Ottawa: Department of Mines. Government Printing Bureau; 1973.

79.       Stoddard NB: Micmac Foods, vol. re-printed from the Journal of Education February 1966. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Halifax Natural Science Museum; 1970.

80.       Bauer G: Fort George Cookbook; 1967.

81.       Stefansson V: My Life with the Eskimo. In: My Life with the Eskimo. edn. New York: The Macmillan Company; 1913.

82.       Speck FG, Dexter RW: Utilization of animals and plants by the Micmac Indians of New Brunswick. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 1951, 41(8):250-259.

83.       McGee JT: The Seasonal Round of Activities. In: Cultural Stability and Change Among The Montagnais Indians of the Lake Melville Region of Labrador. edn. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press; 1961: 54-86.

84.       Suttles WP: Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians. In: Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians The Economic Life of the Coast Salish of Haro and Rosario Straits. edn. New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc.; 1974.

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Grouse General

Grouse General

Grouse, like ptarmigan, their closest relatives, occupy cooler climates than other gallinaceous birds and are distinguished by having feathers covering their nostrils, sometimes their legs and toes, and by having fleshy eyebrows, called combs, especially obvious when red in breeding males. Grouse are distinguished from ptarmigan by lacking a white winter plumage and lacking white wings or belly patches in summer plumage. During the breeding season, males of most species of grouse mate with multiple females and engage in complex courtship displays including tail-fanning, inflating neck sacs, and wing-clapping or drumming. Some species form so-called leks, in which groups of males congregate in the same locations year-after-year to display to females. In North America, native grouse species include the ruffed grouse (Bonosa umbellus), the spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), the blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus), and the sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) and greater prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) [1].

Spruce Grouse

The Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) is a widespread upland fowl species native to coniferous forests of northern North America, present throughout much of mainland Canada and into northern United States. They have been successfully introduced in Newfoundland. Spruce grouse can be further subdivided into the Taiga Grouse (F. c. canadensis) occurring from central Alaska east to Labrador and Franklin’s Grouse (F. c. franklinii) occurring in southeastern Alaska and British Columbia. Spruce Grouse are called tétras du Canada in French.

Spruce Grouse weigh between 400 and 800 g, have a dark brown short and stout bill, with brownish or grayish mottled upperparts and dark and white barring on underparts. Breeding males in display have bright red eyebrow, called combs, an inflated neck pouch covered in feathers, and a fanned tail with a light rufous terminal tail-band, and a wing dragging posture. Females have banded blackish-brown upperparts and buffy dark brown underparts with broad white barring or spots. Spruce Grouse are half the size of Blue Grouse with a noticeably shorter neck and tail, and differ from Ruffed Grouse in having white bars or spots on underparts and a dark colored tail with a light band at the end.

Spruce Grouse occupy coniferous forests dominated by spruce and pine, especially young forests with dense understory. They are largely sedentary, but some make small seasonal movements in spring and autumn. They feed primarily on conifer needles and buds, but also on invertebrates and berries. In the winter, Spruce Grouse form loose flocks of up to 30 birds and spend most of their time in trees. Spruce Grouse, also known as foolhens, are not wary, are easy to approach, and, if flushed, often land in a nearby tree within a few meters of the ground. They are mostly polygamous and males defend dispersed territories and attract females by intense displaying. They prefer to breed under a covered canopy, most often placing nests under a conifer tree. They breed in late winter and lay 5-6 eggs in early spring that are incubated for 21-24 days. Major egg predators include red squirrels, crows, and weasels, while birds can be taken by hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes, and lynx. Spruce Grouse remain abundant throughout much of their North American range despite some habitat loss, most concentrated in southern and eastern portions of the species range [2].

Ruffed Grouse

The ruffed grouse (Bonosa umbellus) is one of the most familiar upland fowl in northern forests of North America, occurring from Alaska, across southern Canada to Labrador and Nova Scotia, and southwards to California and Utah to the west and through the Appalachians and northern Georgia to the east. It has been successfully introduced in Newfoundland. Their French common name is gélinotte huppée.

Ruffed grouse are medium-sized grouse, weighing between 450 and 750 g, with grayish- to reddish-brown upperparts, barred white underparts, a long rounded tail, elongated crest feathers, a short black bill, and slender grayish legs and feet. Breeding males have a prominent visual display that involves erecting their elongated neck feathers into a ruffed collar, displaying their orange eyebrows or combs, and fanning their tail, which is barred with a broad black band. However, the most prominent breeding display of ruffed grouse is the loud wing drumming performed by males in both fall and spring, which resonates through the woods as a hollow, accelerating, drumming noise. Females are very similar to males, but have a central gap in the black tail band, have less elongated crest and neck feathers, and less intense white barring. Ruffed Grouse could be confused with Spruce Grouse, but Ruffed Grouse have dark barring on underparts whereas Spruce Grouse have white spots and Ruffed Grouse have a light colored tail with a dark band near the end whereas Spruce Grouse have a dark colored tail with a light band at the end.

Ruffed Grouse occupy dense woodland habitats, including deciduous, mixed, and boreal forests, but also Pacific coast rainforests, where at least some deciduous trees, especially aspen, are present. They are almost entirely sedentary and move very little, even between seasons. They feed mainly on buds and shoots from aspen and birch, but also include berries, seeds, and small insects in their summer diet. Ruffed grouse are polygamous and males occupy dispersed, but sometimes clustered territories during spring breeding season. Females nest on the forest floor and lay 10-12 eggs incubated for 23-25 days. Eggs and chicks can be predated upon by weasels, minks, skunks, fishers, red foxes, raccoons, crows, and ravens, while adults can also be eaten by coyotes, lynx, hawks, and owls. Ruffed grouse are common throughout much of their range, but numbers are lower in southernmost regions and have been declining in eastern USA [3].

Sharp-tailed Grouse and Greater Prairie Chicken

The Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) and Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) are two closely related species of North American upland fowl.

They are both gallinaceous birds in the order Galliformes, which includes, in North America, ptarmigan, pheasants, partridges, turkeys, and bobwhites. Like other upland fowl, they are non-migratory, chicken-like, round-bodied, ground-feeding birds with a small bill and blunt wings that are only capable of short distance flights[1]. These two species can be differentiated from each other and the smaller and more geographically restricted Lesser Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinictus) based on coloration of underparts (barred in prairie chickens and v-shaped in Sharp-tailed Grouse), tail shape (short, dark and rounded in prairie chickens, pointed and whitish in Sharp-tailed Grouse), and coloration of the neck sacs of displaying males (orange in prairie chickens and purplish in Sharp-tailed Grouse). However, Sharp-tailed Grouse are often locally referred to as prairie chickens, in southern portions of their range, so these three closely related species may be combined or named incorrectly in some ethnographic literature.   

The Sharp-tailed Grouse occurs in wooded and bushy grasslands of northern and central USA and Canada, from Alaska to western Quebec and south to Great Plains of interior USA. They are a large grouse, weighing between 0.6 and 1 kg, are mottled brown and white, have a distinctive pointed, whitish tail with elongated and barred central tail feathers, buff white underparts, a small ragged crown, and a dark brown bill and feet. Male sharp-tailed grouse in display have yellow eyebrows or combs and dance while inflating their purplish neck sacs and cocking their tail. Females have less contrasting face and throat patterns and more even barring on the central tail feathers compared to males. Sharp-tailed grouse occupy a wide range of open habitats, including savannas, shrublands, and young forests, but are found in more closed habitats during winter. They are largely sedentary, but more mobile in the winter. In winter, they feed mainly on buds and catkins from birch, willow, and poplar. In summer, they also eat dandelions, buttercups, and insects. Sharp-tailed grouse are polygamous and males form leks (groups of many males) in the autumn before the spring breeding season. Females nest in a simple scrape on the ground and lay 10-13 eggs incubated for 21-24 days. Eggs are eaten by skunks, ground squirrels, magpies, crows, and ravens, while adults and chicks are eaten by coyotes, minks, weasels, red foxes, hawks, and owls. Sharp-tailed Grouse have disappeared from portions of their range, especially in the southwest, due to forest clearing and agricultural intensification, but remain fairly common in Canada [4].

The Greater Prairie Chicken is now extinct in Canada, but once occurred from Alberta to southeastern Ontario, and is now only found in northwest Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and western Kansas. They are a large grouse, weighing between 1 and 2.9 kg, are brown with fine whitish bars, and have buff white chin and throat, a short rounded tail, a small ragged crown, a shawl of elongated ear feathers, and yellow-brown bill and feet. Male prairie chickens in display have inflated yellowish-orange neck sacs and eyebrows or combs, erected ear feathers into rabbit-ears, a dark-brown erected tail, and a wing-dragging posture. Females are similar to males, but have less distinct paler chin and throat, shorter ear feathers, and a barred tail. Greater Prairie Chickens currently occupy patches of prairies and croplands. They are largely sedentary, but most movements occur in autumn and winter. They often feed on cultivated grains, but also on leaves, seeds, buds, and insects. They are polygamous and males form leks of up to 70 displaying males. They breed in late winter and females nest in a shallow depression on the ground and lay 8-14 eggs incubated for 23-25 days. Adults and chicks are predated upon by hawks, eagles, owls, weasel, mink, badger, foxes, coyotes, and wolves, while eggs can be eaten by ants, snakes, crows, opossums, ground squirrels, skunks, and raccoons [5].

Blue Grouse

The Blue Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) is an upland fowl species native to coniferous forests and mountainous regions of western North America from southeastern Alaska, southern Yukon, and all of British Columbia southward to California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Blue Grouse can be further subdivided into the interior Dusky Grouse (D. o. obscurus) and the coastal Sooty Grouse (D. o. fuliginosus). Their French common name is tétras sombre.

Blue Grouse weigh around 1 kg and have a dusky gray plumage, a short black bill, and grayish-black feet. Breeding males in display have puffy orange to yellowish eyebrows, called combs, a purplish red to yellow bare skin patch on each side of the neck surrounded by white neck feathers, a completely fanned dark tail with a lighter gray terminal band, and a wing dragging posture. Females have grayish brown mottling on dark upperparts with sparse white markings on gray underparts. Blue Grouse resemble Spruce Grouse in overall coloration, but are twice the size of Spruce Grouse, with a noticeably longer neck and tail, and lack the black and white barred underparts found on Spruce Grouse.

Blue Grouse occupy a variety of habitats from the wet forests of coastal lowlands to the alpine tundra and are generally found close to tree cover. Blue Grouse are considered year-round residents, but most make short upslope movements from their breeding areas to winter in higher elevation forests. They feed almost entirely on conifer needles in the winter, but their summer diet includes some invertebrates, seeds, leaves, buds, and berries. Blue Grouse are generally solitary in summer, except for females and their brood, but can be found in small groups in the winter. They preferably breed where there are fir trees with an understory of grasses and shrubs to cover ground nests. Blue Grouse males mate with multiples females, with males defending dispersed territories that are visited by females. They breed in late winter and lay 6-8 eggs in early spring that are incubated for 25-28 days. Major predators include many species of birds of prey (hawks, falcons, eagles, owls), lynx, and red foxes. The Blue Grouse is uncommon throughout most of its North American range [6].


1.         Madge S: Pheasants, partridges, and grouse: a guide to the pheasants, partridges, quails, grouse, guineafowl, buttonquails and sandgrouse of the world. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 2002.

2.         Boag DA, Schroeder MA: Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1992.

3.         Rusch DH, Destefano S, Reynolds MC, Lauten D: Ruffed Grouse (Bonosa umbellus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2000.

4.         Connelly JW, Gratson MW, Reese KP: Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1998.

5.         Johnson JA, Schroeder MA, Robb LA: Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2011.

6.         Zwickel FC, Bendell JF: Blue Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2005.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Spruce Grouse
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Mdf
Ruffed Grouse
© Phil Myers
Supplier: Animal Diversity Web
Photographer: Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Sharp-tailed Grouse
© L Pittman
Creator: L Pittman
Greater Prairie Chicken
© Greg Lasley
Creator: Greg Lasley
Blue Grouse
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons


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