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Spruce Grouse

A medium-sized bird found in the boreal forests of North America, from Alaska and northern Canada to parts of the northeastern United States. It is a member of the grouse family, which includes other species such as the Ruffed Grouse and the Sage Grouse.

Broadly distributed across Alaska, Canada, and parts of the northernmost U.S., the Spruce Grouse occupies coniferous forests and relies on needles for much of its diet. Spruce Grouse are territorial, with males defending territories against other males, and females defending against other females.

Recently hatched Spruce Grouse make their first attempts at flight at about a week of age, though these are short, weak flights. About three months are spent together as a brood, and then they gradually separate. Most mortality takes place early in life, but surviving birds can occasionally live up to 13 years.

Length: 16 inches
Wing span: 22 inches


Description of the Spruce Grouse


The Spruce Grouse is a sexually dimorphic, medium sized grouse with a short tail. Two subspecies differ somewhat in plumage, with Taiga birds having a reddish band at the end of the tail, and Franklin’s birds having a mostly black tail.

Males are mostly blackish, with heavy white mottling on the belly and flanks, while the upper breast and neck is black. Males have a red comb above the eye.

Spruce Grouse

Photograph © Glenn Bartley


Females are mostly brownish to reddish-brown, with heavy barring on the underparts.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles resemble adult females.


Spruce Grouse inhabit coniferous forests and muskeg.


Spruce Grouse eat conifer needles.

Spruce Grouse

Female. Photograph © Glenn Bartley


Spruce Grouse forage on the ground in the summer and in trees during winter.


Spruce Grouse are resident from Alaska across much of Canada to the Atlantic Coast, and south to parts of the northern U.S. The population is stable.

Fun Facts

Some Spruce Grouse individuals, usually females, make short migrations on foot.

Spruce Grouse are extremely tame, sometimes allowing approach within a few feet.


The song consists of a series of low hoots. Several clucks are given also.

Similar Species

  • Spruce Grouse have shorter tails than Sooty, Dusky, or Ruffed Grouse. The red eye combs of the male are also distinctive.


The Spruce Grouse’s nest consists of a shallow depression lined with needles.

Number: Usually lay 4-10 eggs.
Color: Buffy with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 20-24 days, and leave the nest shortly after hatching, though associating with the adults for some time

Bent Life History of the Spruce Grouse

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Spruce Grouse – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.

[Current A.O.U. = Spruce Grouse]

The Hudsonian spruce grouse thrives best in regions where man is absent. In fact it remains so woefully ignorant of the destructive nature of the human animal that, unlike its cousin, the ruffed grouse, it rarely learns to run or fly away, but allows itself to be shot, clubbed, or noosed, and, in consequence, has earned for itself the proud title of “fool hen.” As a result, wherever man appears, the spruce grouse rapidly diminishes in numbers, and, in the vicinity of villages or outlying posts, is not to be found. It is a bird of the northern wilderness, of thick and tangled swamps, and of spruce forests, where the ground is deep in moss and where the delicate vines of the snowberry and twinflower clamber over moss-covered stubs and fallen, long-decayed tree trunks.

Although spruce grouse are resident wherever found even to the northern limit of their range, a certain extent of movement occurs among them in winter, dependent probably on the food supply and not on the severity of the cold. Cowrtskip: As with the ruffed grouse, “drumming” by the wings is an important feature of the courtship, but in this the spruce grouse has not reached so high a degree of evolution. It appears to be at a stage midway between the bird that in courtship flies with rapidly and noi~ily fluttering wings and the bird that stands still and flutters or “drums” with its wings.

J. L. Devany (1921), writing of the courtship of the spruce grouse, says:

His favorite location at such a time is between two trees standing apart some 20 or 80 feet, and with tile lower branches large and horizontal. Perched on one of these branches he pitches downward, pausing midway to beat and flutter his wings, and ascend to a branch of the opposite tree. After a short interval this manoenver is repeated and so continued hy the hour, swinging back and forth from tree to tree, the time between each swing being as exact as if measured by a watch. If such an ideal situation Is not at hand, the fact does not prevent the “fool heif’ from giving vent to his exuberance. Selecting a small open space among the bushes, he takes his stand in the center and, like a jack-in-the-box, pops up a few feet in the air and, giving his triumphant fluttering, drops again to earth * * *ï The sound produced by the drumming of the Canada grouse can In no-wise compare with that of the ruffed grouse; It has neither the roll nor the volume. It is in fact little more than a flutter, such as might be made by birds forcing their way through thick branches after buds or berries. Unlike the ruffed grouse, however, he seems to have no very strong objections to an audience. The performance of a ruffed grouse can only be witnessed by the exercise of stealth and caution. Our little spruce partridge on the other hand will peer and look at the intruder, and then, as if suddenly remembering, go through his evolutions with a gusto that excites our startled amusement Though the drumming of the grouse is peculiar to the male, Its practice is not confined to the nesting season alone, but may be heard In any month of the year, and occasionally at any hour of the day or night.

Everett Smith (1883) thus describes the performance:

The Canada Grouse performs Its “drumming~~ upon the trunk of a standing tree of rather small size, preferably one that Is inclined from the perpendicular, and In the following manner: Commencing near the base of the tree selected. the bird flutters upward with somewhat slow progress, hut rapidly beating wings, which produce the drumming sound. Having thus ascended 15 or 20 feet it glides quietly on the wing to the ground and repeats the manoeuvre. Favorite places are resorted to habitually, and these “drumming trees” are well known to observant woodsmen. I have seen one that was so well worn upon the bark as to lead to the belief that it had been used for this purpose for many years. This tree was a spruce of 6 inches in diameter, with an inclination of about 15 degrees from the perpendicular, and was known to have been used as a “drumming tree” for several seasons. The upper surface and sides of the trunk were so worn by the feet and wings of the bird or birds using it for drumming, that for a distance of 12 or 15 feet the bark had become quite smooth and red as if rubbed.

Bendire (1892) quotes another description of the drumming by James Lingley:

After strutting back and forth for a few minutes, the male flew straight up, as high as the surrounding trees, about 14 feet; here he remained stationary an Instant, and while on suspended wing did the drumming with the wings, resembling distant thunder, meanwhile dropping down slowly to the spot from where he started, to repeat the same thing over and over again.

Bendire also quotes this from Manly Hardy: “My father, who has had opportunities to see them drum, told me they drummed in the air while descending from a tree.” Nesting: The nest of the spruce grouse is difficult to find, as it is generally placed under the low protecting branch of a spruce or in deep moss and concealed in a tangle of bushes. As the mother bird so perfectly matches the dead leaves and twigs of the forest floor, and as she does not move except in imminent danger of being stepped upon, the difficulty of discovery is increased, and it not infrequently happens that the intruder steps in the nest and breaks some of the eggs before he realizes that it is there. This method of finding a nest occurred when Mr. Bent and I were cruising along the Canadian Labrador coast. Mr. Bent had offered a reward to anyone who would bring him a set of the eggs of this bird, as our own search had hitherto been fruitless. While we were anchored behind Little St. Charles Island, a fisherman came on board with eight of these beautiful eggs in his hat. He explained somewhat ruefully that he had stepped into the nest almost on the sitting bird, and crushed four of a set of 12 eggs before he knew they were there.

The nest is generally a slight depression in the moss, lined with dead grass and leaves. Lucien M. Turner describes a nest found in the neighborhood of Fort Chimo, Ungava, as “merely a few grass stalks and blades loosely arranged among the moss of a higher spot under the drooping limbs of a spruce situated in a swamp. A few feathers of the parent bird were also in the nest.”

A. D. Henderson describes a nest as follows: “It was in a muskeg, a slight hollow in the moss scantily lined with a few twigs and leaves of the Labrador tea. It was under a moss-covered, dead, fallen spruce branch beneath a low-branching green spruce. The sitting bird was very reluctant to leave the nest.” Another “nest was in a hollow lined with dry leaves and spruce needles under a small spruce bush, about 2 feet high, on the edge of a muskeg.”

Eggs: [Author’s NOTE: The spruce grouse and its near relative, Franklin’s grouse, lay the handsomest eggs of any of the grouse. Ten or a dozen eggs usually make up the set, but as many as 14 or even 16 have been found in a nest. Sets of less than eight are probably incomplete. The eggs vary in shape from ovate to elliptical ovate. The shell is smooth with a very slight gloss. The ground colors vsry from “cinnamon” to “pinkish buff,” or from ~ to “cartridge buff.” They are usually boldly and handsomely marked with large spots and blotches of rich browns, sometimes more sparingly marked and sometimes thickly and evenly covered with small spots and dots. The colors of the markings vary from “chestnut-brown ” or ” chocolate “to “hazel” or ” russet.” One odd set in my collection has a “cartridge buff” ground; one egg is nearly immaculate and the others are sparingly, or only slightly, spotted with ” bone brown.” The measurements of 54 eggs average 43.5 by 31.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 47.1 by 34, 40 by 30.4, and 40.1 by 29.8 millimeters.]

Young: The duration of incubation is about 17 days, according to Lucien M. Turner. Incubation is performed by the female and she alone looks after the young. Bendire (1892) states that “an egg is deposited every other day, and incubation does not begin until the clutch is completed.” Turner, however, states that “laying begins about the fifth of June and incubation about the twelfth” in TJngava.

The young are able to run about and follow the mother almost as soon as their feathers dry, and they are able to fly vigorously at an early age, when they appear about a quarter of the size of the adults. One of these young, a good flyer, that I collected at Shecatica Inlet, Canadian Labrador, on July 23, 1915, measured 5 inches in length, and its wing measured 3.5. The adult’s length is about 13 inches and the wing 6.5. On this occasion the brood of young startled me by flying up with a slight whirring sound almost from under my feet. They flew to the branches of a low spruce, while the mother appeared most conspicuously, standing in a bed of curlew-berry vines and reindeer lichen, with head up and tail erected. As a rule the young fly off and conceal themselves so thoroughly that it is difficult to flush them again, while the mother, clucking and ruffling her feathers, flies to a spruce tree or remains on the ground, in both cases allowing an approach to within a few feet. On one occasion, when I was in the marshes about the mouth of the St. Paul River, Canadian Labrador, the female stood on a small rock an(l crooned, while the young, one after the other, until seven in all, flew and joined her on the rock. Mr. Bent contributes the following note on the behavior of mother and young when the latter are still unable to fly; this was near Ilopedale, Labrador:

We caught one of the young and had an interesting time watching the mother bird In her solicitude. Her boldness was remarkahie and she showed no fear whatever; we could walk right up to within a few feet of her, on the ground or in small trees. We tied the young one with a string and, as soon as the mother heard Its peeping notes, she came right up to It, clucking and scolding. with her feathers all ruffled up and her tail spread like a turkey’s; she strutted around over the logs and rocks near us; her soft clucking notes sounded like kruk, krulc, lcrzslc, with an occasional rolling note like krr,-r,-uk, soft and low. The young evidently understood it as a danger signal, for they remained so well hidden that we found only two of them. While I was photographing the captive little one, the mother came almost near enough to touch and even ran between the legs of the tripod.

Plumages: [Author’s NOTE: In the small, downy chick the general ground color is yellowish buff, varying from “chamois” above to “colonial buff” below; there is a black spot at the base of the culmen, a larger one in the middle of the forehead, one on each of the lores, and a broken stripe on the auriculars; there is a large patch of “hazel,” bordered with black, on the crown and occiput; the back and rump are washed with “hazel” and “tawny” and indistinctly spotted with black; the underparts are unmarked. The juvenal plumage appears at an early age, beginning with the wings; these start to grow within the first 5 days and, at the age of 10 or 12 days, the wings reach beyond the tail and the young bird can make short flights. By the time the young bird is half grown it is fully feathered. In this juvenal pitlmage the sexes are alike and resemble the adult female, but arc browner above, rustier on the head and neck, and whiter on the chin. The crown is “cinnamon-rufous” or “hazel,” spotted with black; the back, scapulars, and wing coverts are “ochraceous-tawny” or “tawny,” boldly patterned with black blotches or bars, and with broad, median, buffy stripes with triangular white tips; the remiges are sepia, the primaries narrowly notched with buff, the secondaries edged with buff, and the tertials barred and spotted with ” ochraceous-tawny”; the pointed rectrices are “ochraceous-tawny,” heavily barred and peppered with black; the breast is ” ochraceous-tawny,” spotted with black, the belly grayish or yellowish white, faintly spotted with dusky, and the chin and throat yellowish white.

Beginning early in August and lasting through September, the postjuvenal molt takes place, during which the sexes begin to differentiate, the young males showing patches of black feathers in the breast. This molt is complete except for the two outer primaries on each wing. It begins on the breast, extends to the flanks and back, and is finally completed on the throat and crown. When this molt is completed in October, young birds can hardly be distinguished from adults, though there is more white in young birds and the outer primaries are diagnostic.

Adults probably have a very limited prenuptial molt about the head and neck in spring; and they have a complete postnuptial molt in August and September. The Iludsonian spruce grouse is a grayer bird than the Canadian, with rather more white and purer gray in the male; the difference is even more pronounced in the female, which is much more purely black and gray, with much less buffy or ochraceous.]

Food: The spruce grouse not only lives in spruce woods but depends upon the buds, tips, and needles of the spruce, as well as of the fir and larch, for a considerable part of its diet. This is particularly the case in winter when snow and ice cover the ground, concealing many berries, which it enjoys eating in summer. In the latter season, I have found in Canadian Labrador the following stomach contents of this bird: A young able to fly had eaten 5 red spiders, 10 green snowberries, and 75 achenes of a bulrush (Scirpue caespitosus); an adult had eaten 25 snowberries, 20 crowberries (Empetrum nigrum), and many leaf tips of a dwarf bilberry (Vaccinium o’vafolia). Another adult had been feeding entirely on crowberries and a third had been eating the leather woodfern (Dryopteris marginaUs). Bearberries (Arctostaphylos 11/va-Ur8i), as well as grass and weed seeds and various insects, including grasshoppers, are also eaten in summer, although the regular diet of spruce is not entirely given up.

E. A. Preble (1908) found nothing but spruce needles in the stomachs of four spruce grouse. Another, taken on the shore of an inlet had in its crop several mollusks (Lymnoea palustri8). The crops of a number taken late in fall and in winter contained only the needles of the jack pine (Pinus banks jana). A young bird just ready to fly had eaten bits of the American rockbrake fern (Cryptograrnrna aerostichoides), blueberries (Vaccinium uliginosum), and mountain cranberries (V. vitisidaea).

Lucien M. Turner says:

The food of the spruce partridge consists of the tender, terminal buds of spruce; and this, in winter, seems to be their only food * * * mixed with, at times, an astonishing quantity of gravel. I was surprised to find these stones of such uniformity of size and material. Crystallized quartz fragments, in certain instances, formed alone the triturating substance.

If a bird be opened when just killed the contents of the gizzard has a powerful terebinthine odor which quickly pervades the flesh and renders It uneatable to a white person. In the spring and summer months these birdi consume quantities of berries of Empetrum and Vaccinjum and in the fall the flesh of the young * * * has a fine flavor, and, as the meat is white, it is very acceptable.

In some instances the flesh of adults in summer is also free from any taste of turpentine. According to A. L. Adams (1873) it is said that the flesh is sometimes poisonous when the birds have been eating mountain-laurel berries. Behavior: The chief characteristic of the Hudsonian spruce grouse is its unsuspicious character, which amounts, indeed, to stupidity. This is illustrated by an experience of Lucien M. Turner, who says:

I once shot 11 and did not move a yard in distance to do so. The people of Labrador employ a method which they term “slipping,” I. e., a slip noose on a long pole which enables the holder to slip the noose over the heads of the birds and jerk tbem down. One who is expert in this method rarely fails to obtain all the birds within reach.

D. G. Elliot (1897) says: “I have seen birds push this noose aside with their bills without changing their position, when through awkwardness, or unsteadiness of hand on account of a long reach, the noose had touched the bird’s head but had not slipped over it.” I have known a botanist to kill an adult grouse by throwing his short-handled collecting pick at it.

The plumage of spruce grouse often makes them difficult to distinguish from their surroundings, and if their tameness depends on this protective coloration, they are overconfident, for, in a setting of reindeer lichen or snow, or an open branch of a spruce, they are very conspicuous. When flushed they generally fly only a few yards or even feet, and, alighting in trees, they continually thrust the head and neck now this way, now that, and appear to be blindly trying to discover what has disturbed them. As a rule the flight is noiseless, or a slight sound only is heard, but at times they rise with a loud whir of wing beats. I have already mentioned the tameness or boldness of the female bird with her brood. This boldness is also shown at the nest containing eggs. J. Fletcher Street writes:

The nest was somewhat hidden under a dense spruce shrub, and while I was cutting away some of the inclosing branches to obtain a better view, the bird left and at first charged toward me. Then she withdrew and kept retreating as I approached toward her, keeping about 10 feet between us. She exhibited but little concern after having left the nest but would not return to It while I remained nearby. I left the locality for three definite periods aad upon each return found the bird sitting upon the eggs, yet becomIng more wary at each successive disturbance.

Referring to this bird, Joseph Grinnell (1900) says: “After the snow came, grouse were seldom found for they remained continually in the trees. I saw but few tracks on the snow all winter, though in the fall their tracks were numerous on the sand-dunes and among willows along the river.” According to A. Leith Adams (18Th), they do not dive under the snow like the ruffed grouse. Lucien M. Turner says: “I have reason to suspect that some of these birds retain their mates for more than one season as I have frequently found a pair together in the depth of winter and these two being the only ones of the kind to be found in the vicinity.” Audubon (1840) says that “the males leave the females whenever incubation has commenced, and do not join them again until late in autumn; indeed they remove to different woods, where they are more shy and wary than during the love season or in winter.” He also imparts the following curious information:

All the species of this genus indicate the approach of rainy weather or a snow storm, with far more precision than the best barometer; for on the afternoon previous to such weather, they alt resort to their roosting places earlier by several hours than they do during a continuation of fine weather. I have seen groups of grouse flying up to their roosts at mid-day, or as soon as the weather felt heavy, and have observed that It generally rained In the course of the afternoon. When, on the contrary, the same flock would remain busily engaged In search of food until sunset, I found the night and the following morning fresh and clear.

D. G. Elliot (1897) says:

The spruce grouse is found usually In small flocks consisting generally of one family, but also old males are met with alone, and I have always regarded It as a bird that was rather fond of solitude. Frequently, even in autumn, when the nights were becoming frosty, and snow flurries would hide the sun by day, heralding the coming winter, I have seen an old male, in the recesses of a swamp, strut about with ruffled feathers and trailing wings, as If the air were balmy and mild and spring were at hand.

Tales are told of immense numbers of these birds collecting in great flocks, or “packs,” but such collections have probably not occurred for many years.

Voice: The spruce grouse is a silent bird except when disturbed. His courtship “song” is instrumental, made by the rapid “drumming” of the wings striking the air as already described. I have heard slight clucking sounds from young birds and somewhat similar cluckings from adult males. Adult females when disturbed cluck incessantly, a sound described by Mr. Bent as “kmtk, kr~uk, kruk, with an occasional rolling note like krrrrruk, soft and low.” Street says: “The only note that the grouse uttered at any time was a low ckuck chuck upon the occasion of her first leaving the nest.” Forbush (1927) records the voice of the immature male as “a low wailing whistle, weeo-weeo-weeo.”

Field marks: The male is a handsome bird distinguished by its compact form, its jet-black breast contrasting sharply with white, its red combs over the eyes, and its yellow-tipped tail. The female is a plain brown bird barred with black above, in this way differing from the ruffed grouse, which is spotted. It is smaller than the ruffed grouse and has a shorter tail.

Range: Northeastern United States, Canada, and Alaska.

The spruce partridge is noninigratory. Its range extends north to Alaska (Noatak River, Coldfoot, Fort Yukon, and Circle); Yukon(latitude 660 40′ N.); Mackenzie (Mackenzie River, Fort Franklin, Lake Hardisty, Gros Cape, and Fort Simpson); northern Saskatchewan (Cochrane River); northern Manitoba (Lac du Brochet, Fort Churchill, and York Factory); northern Ontario (Fort Severn); northern Quebec (Fort George, Great Whale River, Fort Chimo, and Whale River); and Labrador (Okkak). East to Labrador (Okkak); eastern Quebec (Rigolet, Groswater Bay, head of the Magdalen River, and Mount Albert); northeastern New Brunswick (Bathhurst); Nova Scotia (Baddeck, Canso, Halifax, and Shelburne); eastern Maine (Fort Fairfield, Mount Katahdin, Houlton, Kingman, Calais, Orono, and North Livermore); and southern New Hampshire (Dublin). South to southern New Hampshire (Dublin); northern New York (Raquette Lake); southern Ontario (Kingston, Peterboro, and Bradford); northern Michigan (Au Sable River, Vans Harbor, and Palmer); northern Wisconsin (Mamie Lake); northern Minnesota (Northern Pacific Junction, Leech Lake, and Hallock); southern Saskatchewan (Fort Pelly and Osler) central Alberta (Mundare, Blueberry Hills, and Simpson Pass) southeastern British Columbia (Goat Mountain); and northern Washington (Chopaka Mountain and Barron). West to northwestern Washington (Barron); northwestern British Columbia (Flood Glacier, Glenora, and Atlin); and Alaska (Chilcat, Kodiac, Nushagak Lake, Alekuagik, Bethel, Russian Mission, Nulato, Kowak River, Kotzebue, and Noatak River).

Spruce partridges are of casual occurrence in Massachusetts (Gloucester, in 1851, and Roxbury, about 1865).

The 1931 edition of the American Ornithologists’ Union Check List of North American Birds recognizes four races of Canachite8 canadensis, all of which are included in the foregoing ranges. True canadensis is found from the Labrador Peninsula west to the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains west of Edmonton, Alberta. Canachites c. canace ranges over the Maritime Provinces of Canada (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia); northern New England and New York; southern Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba; and northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. It is now largely extinct in the southern part of its range. Canackites c. osgoodi is found from Great Slave Lake and Athabaska Lake west to the Yukon region and the Mount McKinley Range of Alaska, while Canackites c. atratus occupies the coast region of southeastern Alaska.

Egg dates: Central Canada (canadensi8): 8 records, May 23 to June 14. Labrador Peninsula: 11 records, June 1 to July 4. Alaska (os goodi) : 9 records, May 11 to June 25. Quebec to Nova Scotia and Maine (canace) : 21 records, May 5 to June 24; 11 re~rds, May 24 to June 2.

ALASKA SPRUCE GROUSE [Current A.O.U. = Spruce Grouse]


The Alaskan form of the spruce grouse, or spruce partridge, was discovered and described by Dr. Louis B. Bishop (1900) and named in honor of his companion on the Yukon River trip, Dr. Wilfred H. Osgood. He described it as “similar to Canachites canadensis but with the ochraceous buff bars replaced everywhere by cream-buff and grayish white. On the upper parts the gray tips are paler, the ochraceous buff replaced by cream-buff and whitish, and the pale bars of the cervix grayish white instead of buff; below the white tips are larger, the pale bars whitish and cream color instead of buff, becoming cream-buff only on the juguluin.”

Doctor Osgood (1904) says of its habitat:

The range of the spruce grouse is practically coextensive with that of the E.pruce tree. We traveled much of the time near the western limit of the timber, and found grouse fairly common, even up to the edge of the tundra, where the spruce was considerably scattered. The last one seen was a fine cock, which was started very early on the morning of September 10, from a small beach on the Nushagak River about 25 miles above its mouth. The grouse are said to occur within a very few miles of Nushagak, however.

Herbert W. Brandt contributes the following notes on his experience with this grouse in Alaska:

The Alaska spruce grouse proved to be a common bird throughout the wooded area that we traversed while en route to Hooper Bay. We first met with it about 60 miles west of Nenana, and from that time thereafter, when we were In the spruce areas, we were continually coming upon It. This noble fowl was common In the spruce timber right up to the highest pine growth in the Beaver Mountains, but its apparent preference is for the densely grown spruce river bottoms. The “fool hen’s” noted lack of fear was often in evidence, and its retreating from ahead of our caravan often quickened the pace of the chaseloving dogs. It proved to be much more arboreal In habits than the other Alaskan gallinaceous birds we encountered, for we seldom saw It on the ground, and its snow tracks are rarely observed, which contrasts markedly with the network of telling ptarmigan trails that everywhere enliven the barren snow wastes. In the heart of the dense spruces, such as it frequents, the beautiful dark plumage pattern gives it almost complete coloration protection, and If It did not reveal itself by movement, this bird would seldom be observed.

Nesting: According to A. H. Twitchell the Alaskan spruce grouse nests regularly in the vicinity of the Beaver Mountains at the head of the Disina River, and here he has aoted nests containing from five to eight eggs. One nest found by him on June 10, 1924, was placed out In the open In winter-dried grass near a small, dead spruce, which afforded hut scant concealment. This bird chose a site about 100 yards from the reindeer corral in a scattered growth of small spruce, and In an area where there was often considerable activity. The male bird was frequently seen flying about, but the female was very wary. The nest was sunken 5 inches in the moss and made of circular-formed dry grass and a few dead spruce twigs, and contained a number of feathers of the sitting bird. The nest was found on June 1, when it contained one egg, and on June 10 the clutch numbered eight eggs, all of which proved to be fresh. During tbe egg-laying period, when the bird was off the nest the eggs were hidden beneath a covering of surroun&ing dead vegetation, artfully arranged before the bird departed.

Eggs: In shape, the egg of the Alaskan spruce grouse is elongate-ovate, and the surface reflects a noticeable luster. The shell is somewhat greasy and quite sturdy. The ground color Is prominent, as the spots occupy less than one-third of the surface, and the egg, on account of the bold richness of its markings, is quite handsome. The ground color varies from “salmon color” to “chamois” and “cream buff.” The spots are flecked over the entire surface, but are sparsest on the larger end. Ia size these markings range from dots to those the size of a pea. There are only a few of the larger spots on each egg and these are well scattered over the surface, seldom exhibiting confluence. In contour the spots tend to be circular, with their rims well defined. When the pigment is thin the color is “chestnut” to “chestnut-brown,” but the usual shade is “haematlte red.” When the egg is newly laid it is evident that both the ground color and markings are soft and moist, like those on the egg of the willow ptarmigan, as each egg somewhere on the surface is streaked with feather scratches, which often show distinctly the Individual feather barbs. Occasionally a considerable area Is so rubbed, exposing the ground color. When the egg dries, however, the markings are very dnrable.

Food: Dr. Frank M. Chapman (1902) quotes from J. D. Figgins’s notes, as follows:

In all the timber region I visited, the Canada Grouse was found common and breeding. Their chief food during early summer Is the leaves of various deciduous bushes and spruce needles. About the 1st of August they repair to the edge of the barren grounds for berries which are then ripening. These are their food until September, when they return to the timber where raspberries and currants are abundant. During winter and spring their food consists entirely of spruce needles. Both adults and young appreciate their protective coloratIon, and when approached remain perfectly motionless until the danger Is past. During the winter their color Is to their disadvantage, and they become very shy and will not allow a close approach.

Near the base of ~he Alaska Peninsula, Doctor Osgood (1904) found these grouse in abundance about Lake Clark, “more common there than “he had ” ever found them elsewhere in Alaska.” He says:

They feed largely on berries in the summer time, being particularly fond of those of Vacoznium viUs-idaea~ which they eat almost exclusively from the time the little green berry first begins to swell until it is dead ripe. At this time the flesh of the birds Is sweeter than in the early Winter, when a diet of SpruCe needles has made them fatter but less palatable. In the spruce forest, which is their ordinary habitat, they are unable to obtain on the moss-covered ground the grit necessary for a gallinaceous bird, so they make daily excursions to the shores of the rivers and lakes where fine gravel is to be had in abundance. Early morning before sunrise is the time for this; then they may often be seen on the beaches, singly, in pairs, or in smail flocks. Doubtless they also come to the rivers to drink, though pools are common enough in the swampy openings in the timber. On the Chulitna River one was caught in a steel trap which had been set for a possible mink or weasel in the marsh grass at the water’s edge.

CANADA SPRUCE GROUSE [Current A.O.U. = Spruce Grouse]


This is the form of the spruce grouse found in extreme southern Canada and the extreme Northern States, east of the Rocky Moulitains. The male is practically indistinguishable from the male of the Hudsonian spruce grouse, but the female is decidedly more rufous or rusty, both above and below. The haunts and habits of the two are Practically identical.

Edward H. Forbush (1927) has given us the following attractive description of its haunts:

In the dense spruce, fir, cedar and tamarack swamps of thc great Maine woods the Spruce Grouse dwells. Where giant, moss grown logs and stumps of the virgin forest of long ago cumber the ground, where tall, blasted stubs of others still project far above the tree-tops of to-day, where the thick carpet of green sphagnum moss deadens every footfall, where tiny-leaved vinelets radiate over their mossy beds, there we may find this wild bird as tame as a barn-yard fowl. In the uplands round about, there still remain some tall primeval woods of birch and beech and rock maple where the moose and bear have set their marks upon the trees. In winter the deer gather in the swamps, and there their many trails wind hither and you. Gnarled, stunted trees of arbor vItae, some dead or dying, defy the blasts of winter, while the long, bearded Usnea droops Ftrearning from their branches.

An equally satisfactory account comes from the facile pen of William Brewster (1925)

For the most part the birds frequent dense, matted growths of cedar (I. e. arbor vitae), black spruce, and hackinatack (American larch), overspreading, low-lying, fiat, and more or less swampy lands bordering on sluggish streams or on semiopen bogs simIlar to those known as Muskegs In the far North. From such coverts they wander not infrequently up neighboring hillsides to evergreen forests on still higher ground beyond, or perhaps into neglected pastures choked with intermingling young balsams, red spruces, and white spruces no more than eight or ten feet tall. Nor are they unknown to appear well out In rather wide upland clearings, where the only available cover consists of thickets of raspberry bushes, or even in river: or brook: meadows, where it Is furnished solely by rank grass. Ramblings, thus venturesome, are exceptional, of course, and undertaken, I believe, at no seasons other than late summer and early autumn, when. the lowly vegetation that clothes such perfectly treeless ground is most luxuriant, and also best supplied with berries or Insects of various kinds; these Spruce Partridges devour eagerly whenever, and wherever, they can obtain them readily, although subsisting during the greater part of the year on a nearly unmixed diet of spruce and balsam spills (leaves), plucked mostly from branches at least fifteen or twenty feet above the ground.

Courtship: William Brewster (1925) gives a slightly different account of this from what others have given; he relates Luman Sargent’s experience with it, as follows:

Many years ago he was skirting a dense swamp, when his attention was attracted by a peculiar whirring sound that came from it. Advancing cautiously he soon perceived two Spruce Partridges, cock and hen, together on the ground. The cock left it presently, and vibrating his wings with great rapidity began mounting upward In a spiral course around the trunk of a large balsam, producing all the while a continuous drumming sound. After rising to a height of about 20 feet, and making three or four complete turns around the stem of the tree, he alighted on one of its branches where he rested for a moment or two and then flew down just as he had risen, that is by circling spirally around the trunk, with the same uninterrupted sound of wings. On reaching the spot where he had left his mate, he strutted about her like a Turkey cock, with widespread tail. Luman saw all this repeated fifteen or twenty times. For the first 10 feet above its base the trunk of the balsam was smooth and bare, but above that the Partridge had to conduct his drumming flights, both upward and downward, through numerous stiff branches. The sound of his drumming was distinctly audible at least 50 yards away.

Watson L. Bishop’s account, quoted by Bendire (1892), of the display of a male bird in captivity is as follows:

The tail stands almost erect, the wings are slightly raised from the body and a little drooped, the head is still well up, and the feathers of the breast and throat are raised and standing out in regular rows which press the feathers of the nape and hind neck well back, forming a smooth kind of cape on the back of the neck. This smooth cape contrasts beautifully with the ruffled black and white feathers of the throat and fore breast. The red comb over each eye Is enlarged until the two nearly meet over the top of the head. This comb the bird is able to enlarge or reduce at will, and while he is strutting the expanded tail is moved from side to side. The two center feathers do not move, but each side expands and contracts alternately with each step as the bird walks. This movement of the tall produces a peculiar rustling, like that of silk. This attitude gives him a very dignified and even conceited air. He tries to attract attention in every possible way, by flying from the ground up on a perch, and back to the ground, making all the noise he can in doing so. Then he will thump some hard substance with his bill. I have had him fly up on my shoulder and thump my collar. At this season he is very bold, and will scarcely keep enough out of the way to avoid being stepped on. He will sometimes sit with his breast almost touching the earth, his feathers erect as In strutting, and making peculiar nodding and circular motions of the head from side to side; he will remain in this position two or three minutes at a time. He is a most beautiful bird, and he shows by his actions that he is perfectly aware of the fact.

Nesting: The nesting habits of this grouse are not essentially different from those of its more northern relative. Brewster (1925) records a nest found by Aldana Brooks near Richardson Lake, Me., “where the land was low and wooded with black ash, birch, alder, and a few larches. It was sunk, he said, in the top of a little mound with no rock, log, or even tree-trunk very near it. There were nine eggs. The bird did not leave them until almost stepped on, when she fluttered off over the ground for a few yards, and then stopped to watch Brooks who finally continued on his way without molesting her, or taking any of the eggs, which he never saw again.”

Watson L. Bishop (1890), who was succeeded in domesticating this bird, says

As the nesting season approaches I prepare suitable places for them by placing spruce boughs In such a way as to form cozy little shelters, where the birds will be pretty well cencealed from vlexv. I then gather up some old dry leaves and grass and scatter it about on the ground near where I have prepared a place for the nest. She will then select one of these places, and, after scratching a deep, cup-shaped place in the ground, deposit in It her eggs; * * * if there should be sufficient material within easy reach of the nest the bird will sometimes cover the eggs up, hut not in all cases.

No nesting material is taken to the nest until after three or four eggs are laid. After this numher has been deposited, the hen, after laying an egg, and while leaving the nest, ‘viii pick up straw, grass, and leaves, or whatever suitable material is at hand, and will throw It backward over her back as she leaves the nest, and by the time the set Is complete, quite a quantity of this litter is collected about the nest. She will then sit In her nest and reach out and gather in the nesting material and place it about her, and when completed the nest is very deep and nicely bordered with grass and leaves.

So strong Is the habit, or instinct, of throwing the nesting materials over the back, that they will frequently throw it ~way from the nest, instead of toward It, as the hen will sometimes follow a trail of material that will turn her “right about~~ so that her head is tnward the nest, but all the time she will continue to throw what she picks up over her back. This, of course, Is throwing the material away from the nest. Discovering her mistake, she will then right about face” and pick up the same material that an instant before was being thrown away, and throw it over her back again toward the nest.

Eggs: The eggs of the Canada spruce grouse are indistinguishable from those of the Iludsonian race, already described. The measurements of 53 eggs average 43.2 by 31.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 47.5 by 31.5, 46.5 by 32.5, 39.9 by 31, and 40.4 by 29 millimeters.

Food: On dissecting some young birds shot on a meadow, on September 11, Brewster (1925)” found in their crops very many pass hoppers of various kinds and sizes, numerous ripe raspberries, a few leaves of Spiraea torn ento8a and (in one crop only) a few larch spills.” Evidently these birds had wandered out of their usual haunts for a change of diet. He says further:

In this connection it may be well to add that in the crops of two young Spruce Grouse only about half-grown and killed in the Tyler Bog on August 13, 1873, I found raspberries, blueberries, checkerberries, and balsam buds as well as needles; that from the crop of an adult female shot near Molildgewauk Stream on September 28, 1890, I took 51 berries of Viburnum lentago?, some fragments of small mushrooms, and a few spills of the black spruce; and that a young male found and killed in company with the old female Just mentioned had in his crop 13 Viburnum berries, uncounted pieces of mushrooms, and a few larch spills. Hence it will appear that food of various kinds other than that supplied by the foliage of coniferous trees is partaken of rather freely by Spruce Grouse in late summer and early autumn,

Behavior: Although they usually flutter awkwardly away or silently fly for very short distances in the thick woods, when flushed in the open by Brewster (1925) they behaved quite differently, “rising all at once like Quail, from within a space no more than two yards square, with what seemed a deafening roar of wings, they sped straight for the woods, flying precisely like Ruffed Grouse and quite as swiftly.”

Forbush (1927), while walking on a trail, almost stumbled over a male spruce grouse. He says:

The bird was somewhat startled and flew heavily up into a near-by spruce, alighting near the tip of a little limb about 20 feet from the ground. As the limb drooped under his weight, he walked up It to the trunk, hopped up a branch or two higher, and immediately begaa to feed on the foliage. After a few minut4 of this, he moved a little into another tree and continued feeding. Pounding on the trunk with an axe did not alarm him, and it was only after several sticks had been thrown and one had hit the very limb on which he sat that he was induced to fly.

Edwyn Sandys (1904) writes:

The writer has twice caught mature specimens with his bare hands, and It is a common trick of woodsmen to decapitate a bird with a switch, or noose it with a hit of twine. Once the writer came precious near hooking one with a trout fly, at which the grouse had pecked. Only a dislike to needless cruelty, and a respect for a fine rod, saved this particular bird. Quite often the brood is met with in the trail, when they will sedately step aside about sufficiently far to make room for the intruder’s hoots, meanwhile regarding him with a laughable air of affectionate interest. No doubt this grouse could fly rapidly should it choose to exert its powers, but It is content with more leisurely movements.

Game: The spruce grouse is not much esteemed as a game bird, as it lacks most of the qualities that appeal to the sportsman. Its haunts are usually too difficult to hunt in, it is too tame and stupid to make its pursuit interesting, and, except when on rare occasions it is found in open clearings or on meadows, it seldom offers a flying shot. It is not highly regarded as a table bird, for its flesh is said to be unpalatable. This is probably so in winter, when it has been feeding on spruce and balsam leaves; its flesh is then dark and decidedly resinous in flavor. But during fall, when it feeds largely on berries, green herbage, and insects, its flesh has a very different color and flavor. Brewster (1925) says that some young birds, shot in September, “proved delicious eating, their flesh being much sweeter and finer flavoured than that of any Ruffed Grouse. Both before and after cooking it was nearly as white as the Ruffed Grouse’s, where as the fully-matured Spruce Grouse has invariably dull reddish flesh somewhat too redolent of spruce foliage to be relished by everyone, although I do not dislike it. The flesh of at least some of the young becomes, almost, if not quite, as dark as that of the adults, by the last of September.”

These birds are killed for food all through the fall and winter by hunters of large and small game, by lumbermen, and by trappers and others. They are so easily killed that they are disappearing very rapidly and are now very scarce in northern New England in any but the most inaccessible regions.

Winter: Walter H. Rich (1907) writes:

During a snowstorm the Spruce Grouse usually files up into the densest clump of spruce or fir trees In the neighborhood, and, under their thick, arching branches, snow-laden and beading, he finds shelter from the weather and food in abundance. He may not leave the tree for several days if undisturbed and the storm continues. The question of temperature troubles him little, and with his wants all provided for, the Spruce Grouse Is more independent in his mode of life than any of his feathered neighbors, for when other birds are scurrying about for something to eat and perhaps going hungry, this gentleman finds plenty of food In his shelter, and sits in comfort, “at ease In his own Inn.”

VALDEZ SPRUCE GROUSE [Current A.O.U. = Spruce Grouse]


Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1910),in describing the spruce grouse of the coast region of southeastern Alaska, says that it “resembles Canachite8 canadensis osgoodi of the interior of Alaska (Yukon and Kowak Valleys), but general tone of coloration darker: white markings less in extent; black areas more extended; and grays less ashy, more olivaceous.”

Of its distribution he says: “The indications are that this form is generally distributed in the humid coast belt from the eastern side of the Xenai Peninsula southwestwardly at least as far as Hawkins Island, and probably beyond.”

Referring to its haunts and food, he writes:

Spruce grouse were not abundant in the Prince William Sound region, but appeared to be generally distributed. Two shot on Hawkins Island were both in heavy timber near the beach. Their crops were filled with the fresh green leaf-buds of spruce. On Hiuchinbrook Island a male was shot on the mountain side near timber-line. The example secured by Belier on Hoodee Island was flushed from a rank growth of salmonberry hushes; Its crop contained berries, some fern fronds and a few seed pods of the devils-club. Grouse sign was noted on Chenega Island; and, as previously noted, skins were secured at Knight Island and at the head of Port Nell Juan.

FRANKLIN’S GROUSE [Current A.O.U. = Spruce Grouse]


This handsome species might well have been named the western spruce grouse, for it is the western counterpart of the well-known spruce grouse of eastern and northern Canada. It lives in similar haunts, has similar habits, and is so closely related to the spruce grouse that it may eventually he shown to intergrade with some of the western races of canadensie and be reduced to suhspecific rank. It occupies a comparatively limited range in the mountainous interior of the Northwestern States and southwestern Canada.

While stationed in Idaho, Major Bendire (1892) found these grouse quite common along the edges of wet or swampy mountain valleys, the so-called “Cam-as prairies,” or the borders of the numerous little streams found In such regions among groves or thickets of spruce and tamarack. Few naturalists have as yet been sufficiently interested to invade their favorite haunts. In the summer of 1881 I found a single covey, numbering about ten birds, in the low flat and densely timbered region between the southern end of Fend d’Oreille Lake (the old steamboat landing) and Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, at an altitude not exceeding 3,500 feet, I should think. I bagged three of these birds, and was quite surprised to find them in such a locality. As far as I have been able to learn, they usually occurred only at altitudes from 5,000 to 9,000 feet, and scarcely ever left the higher mountains. They were scratching in the dust on the trail I was following, and simply ran into the thick underbrush on each side, where they were quickly hidden.

Courtship: Thomas T. McCabe has sent me the following interesting notes on the courtship of Franklin’s grouse, as observed by him and Mrs. McCabe in British Columbia on May 28, 1929:

In the course of a morning’s nest hunting in second-growth spruce and balsam, carpeted with deep green moss, we had found the cock In his usual locality, sitting quietly on a tussock, showing no erection of the crimson combs, no inclination to display, and typically indifferent to us. An hour later and a little before noon we were about 200 yards from this point, when he appeared above us, flying through the tree tops, and lit in a spruce about 15 feet from the ground and close to a pack trail. He still displayed no unusual excitement, and we left him again for 15 minutes. When we came back the hen had appeared and was squatting fiat on the ground in the center of the beaten trail. Her appearance was normal and remained so through the ensuing episode. Perhaps 20 feet away the cock was walking down the trail toward her in a typical attitude of display: head drawn up and back, tail spread through two-thirds of a circle and vertical (not bent forward over the back), the fine undercoverts falling back from It like the sticks of a fan, the wing points slightly dropped, the combs bulged upward into elongate crimson rolls, which met In the center of the cranium. In this guise he strutted very slowly, with a statuesque pause of about 8 seconds every 2 or 3 feet.

At a distance of about 10 feet the whole hird was transformed with the suddenness of a conjuring trick, and the similarity to the courting ruffed grouse disappeared. The tail snapped together and sank nearly to the ground. The head was lowered and extcnded far forward. The plumage was flattened so that a hard sleekness replaced the fluffy rotundity, and the size of the bird diminished by half. The attitude was like that often assumed by Bonese or Lagopus when luring an intruder away from nest or young, hut In place of their whining note a low guttural was produced, vibrant and threatening, inï from 5 to 7 periods, the first two distinct and slow, the remainder losing interval and less sonorous, trailing off to silence. This was accompanied by a slight movement of the tail in the vertical plane, rather a periodic trembling than a snapping like that of the courting Bonosa. One of us thought that with this movement the rectrices were slightly opened. Between these utterances the bird moved 3 to 6 feet, very slowly, and not in short runs after the manner of Bonesa. The movements were in various directions, a few perhaps directly toward the hen, but for the most part oblique and keeping 5 or 6 feet away.

After about 4 minutes of this the hen took wing, silently, but with amazing suddenness and speed for so phlegmatic a bird, flashed down the trail, and made a quick turn into the woods. Her sudden start scarcely gained a foot on the eager male, and both disappeared together. Perhaps a final scene was enacted near by. Perhaps many more were set, with many variations, before the subtle interplay of impulse and reaction rose to its climax. The details of the primitive drama, with its suggestions of threatening, beseeching, lamenting, lie beyond our power of interpretation, but, except in the opening movement, the element of simple and lavish display, so widespread among other genera, was absent.

Nesting: The nesting habits of Franklin’s grouse are similar to those of the spruce grouse. rrhe eggs are very rare in collections, as the nests have seldom been found, and very little has been published about them. Major Bendire (1892) xvrites:

Through the kindness of Mr. W. F. Traill, in charge of one of the Hudson Bay Company posts in British Columbia, parts of three sets of these rare eggs, fifteen in number, were collected during the season of 1890; taken on May 20, 27, and 30, respectively. The nests were shallow depressions in the moss-covered ground, lined with hits of dry grass, and were placed at the borders of spruce thickets. The eggs were fresh when found.

A set of six eggs, fresh when taken on May 27, 1906, is in ifly collection; it was taken by E. C. Bryant in Flathead County, Mont. The nest was at the end of an uprooted tree among some lodgepole pines; the hollow in the ground was lined with pine needles, weeds, and other material that came handy.

William L. Dawson (1896) describes a nest that he found in Okanogan County, Wash., as follows:

On the 28th of AprIl, 1896, I found a nest of this bird at an altitude of about a thousand feet above Lake Chelan. It was placed In the tall grass, which clothed the side of an inconspicuous “draw” bottom, and although the plough had recently turned up the soil within five feet of her, the mother bird clung to her post. I took several “snap shots” of her at close range, and she allowed me to advance my hand to within a foot of her, when she stepped quietly off the eggs and stood looking back at me over her shoulder. The nest was a depression in the gravel-filled soil, lined with grass and dry corn leaves, besides a few stray feathers; depth 3 Inches, width 7 inches.

Eggs: The eggs of Franklin’s grouse are similar to those of the spruce grouse; what few I have seen average more finely and more evenly spotted with smaller spots, but practically all types can be matched in a series of either. They are beautiful eggs and greatly in demand by collectors. The measurements of 33 eggs average 42.7 by 31.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 45.1 by 30.2, 44.5 by 33, and 39 by 30 millimeters.

Young: Mrs. Florence M. Bailey (1918) gives the following interesting account of her experience with a brood of young in Glacier National Park:

A brood of three half-grown huffy-breasted and tailless young were seen In the Waterton Valley about the middle of August, wandering around enjoying themselves in deep, soft-carpeted woods of spruce and fir, where they jumped up to pick black honeysuckle berries from the low bushes, or answered their mother’s call to come and eat thimbleberries. One of them, which flew up on a branch, also passed the time eating fir needles. When surprised by our appearance the little fellows ran crouching down the trail showing a keen hiding instinct, but their mother had little sense of danger. When the young were approached she merely turned her head over and called mildly in soft remonstrance. She was the genuine fool hen of Montana, we were told, whom the Flatheads and the mountain Indians never kill except when in great need of food, as the birds are so tame they can be snared at will, without ammunition: as the Indians say, with string from a moccasin.

The same brood, we supposed, was met with a few days later on the same trail. One of the young was In the trail and the mother was sitting on a log when we came up, but on seeing us she called the little ones into the bushe~i. When driven out for a better view she climbed a bank adorned with bear grass, dwarf brake, and llnnaea carpet, and, stopping under a long drooping spray of Streptopus: under whose light-green leaves hung beautiful bright red berries: she jumped up again and again to pick off the berries. Then, flying up on a fallen tree trunk almost over my head, she sat there looking very plump and matronly and entirely self-possessed, while I admired the white and tawny pattern of her plumage. She sat there calmly overlooking the brnshy cover where the young were hidden and showed no disapproval when the three came out and walked a log by the trail. She called to them in soft, soothing tones and they answered hack In sprightly fashion. It would have been so easy to win their confidence completely and to watch their engaging ways that it was trying to have to leave them and pass on up the trail.

Plumages: The Franklin’s grouse chick is beautifully colored. The central crown patch, which is bordered with black, and the upper parts in general are rich brown, from “Sanford’s brown” to “amber brown”; the colors of the forehead, sides of the head, and underparts vary from “mustard yellow” to “Naples yellow,” deepest and tinged with brownish on the forehead and flanks, and palest on the sides of the head and belly; there are black spots below the eyes, on the lores and auriculars, on the lower forehead, and on the rump; and there is a black ring around the neck.

The juvenal plumage comes in first on the wings, when the chick is only a few days old, then on the scapulars, back, flanks, and breast, in that order; the tail appears next and the head and neck are the last to be feathered. By the time the young bird is half grown ~t is fully clothed in juvenal plumage. The feathers of the upper parts are beautifully patterned in rich browns, black, and white; those of the crown are barred with black and white; those of the back, scapulars, wing coverts, and flanks are barred and p4terned with “tawny” and “ochraceous-tawny,” and have narrow bars or large areas of black separated by bars of creamy white; many of these have central shaft stripes of creamy white, broadening on some into a white tip; the breast is “cinnamon-buff” or yellowish white, with large black spots; the chin and throat are white and the belly grayish white; the tail is barred with sepia and grayish buff and tipped with white. During the latter part of August the molt begins from the juvenal plumage, in which the sexes are alike, into the first winter plumage. This is a complete molt, except that the two outer primaries on each wing are retained for a year. The sexes now differentiate and look much like adults, though the black areas are less purely black and there is more white spotting.

Adults may have a very limited prenuptial molt in spring, but they have a complete postnuptial molt in summer and early in fall. J. H. Riley (1912), who collected a fine series of these grouse in British Columbia, says:

The males were never found with the females and young, but always by themselves and in full molt, July 18th to 21st, while at this time it had barely begun in the females. All the males taken had molted the tail and the new feathers were just appearing, while the only female taken that the molt had progressed so far was shot August 27th. This seems to show that while the female is brooding and bringing up the young, which she does unaided by her spouse, he goes on by himself and moults, while the process in the female is delayed until her young are able to shift for themselves.

In the series of females collected toere are two phases of plumage; one of which I shall call the red phase and the other the gray phase. In the red phase the lower parts, down to the abdomen, are tawny ochrsceous with the sub-terminal black bars on the feathers often interrupted, giving to these parts a beautiful “spangled” appearance; in the upper parts the tawny ochraceous barring is very prominent; the middle tail feathers and upper tailcoverts are black crossed by Irregular narrow ochraceoos bars and tipped with white. Ta the gray phase the lower parts only as far as the upper breast are ochraceous-buff, the feather of the breast being broadly tipped with white, and the black bars are not interrupted, giving to the breast and abdomen the appearance of being black and white, entirely different from the red phase; the light bars on the neck and upper back are oehraceous-buff and the tawny ochraceous of the red phase in the rest of the plumage of the upper parts is replaced by wood or hair brown; the central tail feathers are black, barred irregularly or stippled with wood brown and tipped with white; the upper tail-coverts lack the white tips. Both phases were taken at the same locality with young; the gray phase is the rarer and in our series there are intermediate stages.

Food: The same writer says of the summer food: “The food contents of the crops of the adults was either spruce leaves or the green berries of a low-growing plant, while that of the young was the blossoms of the red heather Phyllodoce empetrifomnis, and a few insects.”

Aretas A. Saunders has sent me the following notes:

Late In summer this bird seems to feed mainly on berries, particularly the “huckleberries” (raccinium). Up to the middle of October their crops contained a blue-colored berry of this genus that grows along the edges of spruce forests. There were sometimes the smaller red-berried ones, another Vaccinium that forms undergrowth in the lodgepole-pine forest. All these are celled “huckleberry” in Montana, though allied to the blueberries. I do not think the true huckleberry (Ge ylussacia) ever grows there. The only other food I have noted is spruce and balsam needles, and late in the season these alone are found in the crops. Apparently these needles are the main winter food, though I have never shot and examined a bird later than late November.

Behavior: Mr. Saunders says in his notes:

All through Montana this bird is kno~vn as “fool hen” because of its lack of fear of man. It will sit still, even when close to the ground and allow one to approach very near. They are often killed with sticks or stones. When a dog approaches they fly up into the trees, and sit there. By shooting the lowest one first, I have shot several in a flock, the others sitting and waiting their turns. In Jefferson County, Montana, we had a small brown spaniel that would pot them up a tree, and then stand beneath and yelp till we came. In Lewis and Clark Counties, en the upper waters of the Sun River, I once climbed a small pine, and grasped a cock Franklin grouse by the foot, just to see if I could do It. The bird moved to a higher limb when I let go, but did not fly away. The male, even in fall, is fond of puffing out its black breast, and opening and shutting the red coiah’ over its eve, apparently by a sort of lifting of its “eyebrows.”

John 0. Snyder (1900) says that “one sat sedately on a limb while a revolver was emptied at her. The shots having missed, roots and stones were thrown, which she avoided by stiff bows or occasional steps to the side.”

Fall: Mr. McCabe writes to me:

The male, of course, takes no part in rearing the young and Is never seen near the broods in the summer. Yet in the late simmer or early autumn the birds gather into mixed groups, young males and females and adult females, to the number of six or seven, under the leadership of a single adult male. The latter when they are disturbed, assumes his display attitude, just as we have described It at courting time, utters a rapid clucking sound, and approaches the intruder, a magnificent creature, while the rest either draw off quietly or squat In supposed concealment. There would be nothing peculiar about this were it not for the fact that these groups only hold together for the two or three autumn months and then dissolve. The birds are very bard to find In winter as they remain sluggishly in the hearts of the big balsams, eating the needles (we counted 5,500 in one crop) or sometimes on the ground in dense masses of small balsams whose lower branches are weighed down into the snow, but when found (we collected three females last January) they are invariably single.

Mr. Saunders tells me that though he has traveled on snowshoes many times inï midwinter, through forests where Franklin’s grouse are known to occur, he has never seen one at that season. Evidently they remain well hidden.

Range: Northwestern United States and southwestern Canada. It is nonmigratory.

The range of Franklin’s grouse extends north to southeastern Alaska (Kasaan Bay); northern British Columbia (Tatletuey Lake, Thudade Lake, Ingenika River, and Hudsons Hope); and central Alberta (Edmonton). East to central Alberta (Edmonton, Pipestone River and Banif) ; western Montana (St. Marys Lake, Belton, Paola, Mount McDonald, and Belt Mountains); and central Idaho (Baker Creek). South to central Idaho (Baker Creek, Sawtooth City, and Resort); and northern Oregon (Mount Hood). West to northern Oregon (Mount Hood); Washington (Cowlitz Pass, Bumping Lake, Yakima Pass, Lake Chelan, and Pasaytens River); British Columbia (probably Chilliwack, Alpha Lake, Fort George, Fort St. James, Stewart Lake, Babine Lake, and Nine-mile Mountain); and southeastern Alaska (Kasaan Bay).

Egg dates: British Columbia, Alberta, and Montana: 13 records, May 18 to July29; 7 records, May 27 to June 9.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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