Romantic Drumming In The Forest

Perfect camouflage in the wild does not bode well for one attempting to draw the attention of a potential mate.

ruffed_grouseSince the male Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) does not sport brilliant, showy plumage, nor is he able to belt out a lovely musical song, he must rely on other means to attract a female. He climbs atop a fallen log or other sturdy perch on the forest floor, stands very tall and begins his impressive audio-visual display. By beating his wings forward and down across his chest, the grouse creates a low-pitched drumming sound that carries well through the dense forest. This oft -repeated five-second display begins with slow powerful thumps and quickly progresses into a rapid whir that can be felt as much as it is heard. As a female approaches, the male will spread his tail feathers and strut around while puffing out his chest and neck feathers. How can she resist?

Come egg-laying time, the male is nowhere to be found; the female Ruffed Grouse will raise her young alone. Her inconspicuous nest is built next to the base of a tree or log, or under dense foliage or brush, and consists of a depression in the ground lined with dried leaves, pine needles and her own feathers. She will lay one speckled buff egg per day until her large clutch of nine to twelve eggs is complete. Then she will incubate the eggs for a period of 21 to 24 days. During this time the female grouse is not easily flushed from the nest, preferring to sit tight on the eggs until the threat (human or other animal) has passed. Waiting to begin incubation until the last egg is laid assures that all the eggs will hatch simultaneously.” Synchronous hatching” is necessary for this ground-nesting bird’s young to leave the nest together within a day’s time.

Grouse young are “precocial,” that is, they are well developed upon hatching. Their eyes are open, they are covered in down, and are able to move about and feed themselves. They eat mainly insects and other invertebrates picked off the forest floor as they kick up leaf litter while following their mother through the woods. Plant buds, foliage, seeds and fruits, as well as snails and small vertebrates, will be added to their diet as they get older.

The female and her brood will remain together throughout the summer and into early fall, at which time the grown young will usually disperse. Occasionally, a family of grouse can be found spending the winter together, feeding on available tree buds and twigs, and diving into snowbanks to spend the night.

Submitted by Cindi Kobak