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  Ruffed Grouse Biology

The ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) is a highly revered game bird in Kentucky. Many birdwatchers go into the woods of eastern Kentucky to hear the all too familiar “drumming” sound that the male makes to display to hen grouse during breeding season. Many hunters take to the woods to traverse the near impossible terrain with hopes to hear the “burrrrr” of a flushing grouse’s wings.  

A small chicken-sized bird, the grouse spends most of its life on the ground pecking the forest floor for insects, seeds, fruits, and herbaceous plants. The birds may roost in trees or on the ground. They don’t always roost in the same spot however, if it is very cold, a grouse will roost on a south-west facing slope to have as much warmth from the sun as possible. Nest sites are often near the base of large trees, or near fallen logs. Hens may lay between nine and fourteen eggs in a nest. If the nest gets destroyed, only about one in five hens will re-nest, but she won’t lay as many eggs in the subsequent nest. Ruffed grouse are declining across most of their historic range in the Appalachian Mountains. This is most commonly due to suitable habitat loss. Current forestry practices, or lack thereof, have decimated the grouse population. Grouse are an early succession species, and the lack of timber harvest and forest management is taking a significant toll of the grouse population.

Characteristics of Grouse:

Male (listen to the male grouse call):

  • Tail feathers 7" long
  • Pronounced ruff feathers
  • Solid dark band across fan
  • More than one white or buff dot on rump feathers

Female:

  • Tail feathers 5 3/4" long
  • Less pronounced ruff feathers
  • Broken dark band across fan
  • One white or buff dot on rump feathers