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Ruffed Grouse – Pennsylvania State Bird (Interesting Facts & Pics)

Ruffed Grouse as Pennsylvania state bird

Pennsylvania State bird is the Ruffed Grouse – a fairly small grouse with long, fan-shaped tails and triangular, short crests.

Pennsylvania is a mid-Atlantic U.S. state whose terrain consists of mountains and farmland. The capital of the state is Harrisburg. It’s a relatively large state with a population of 13 million people and ​​a 46,055 sq mile size.

These birds are difficult to spot, and they often look slimmer than other grouse species and have short legs. Displaying males expose neck feathers that are a rich black ruff. In fact, that’s where they got their name from.

 

Pennsylvania State Bird History

The Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) became the state bird of Pennsylvania on June 22, 1931, although it’s technically known as the state’s game bird.

It was adopted as the state’s game bird because it can be found in the forests throughout the state and provided the state settlers with an essential part of their food supply. Their populations have remained stable between the early 1960s and 2019.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

The Ruffed Grouse’s extreme popularity as a game species led to the need for control on area closures, bag limits, season length, and substantial efforts to improve their habitat through practices that support early successional forest. Ruffed Grouses have an estimated breeding population of 18 million.

The Ruffed Grouse Society works with government agencies in various programs to increase grouse habitat through targeted management and land purchases.

Habitat for these birds has declined, especially where forests have matured due to limits on logging and fire control. Pesticide use can also affect insect populations, a food source that Ruffed Grouse chicks rely on.

 

Facts about The Ruffed Grouse

  • Ruffed Grouse can be mistaken for turkeys, they are smaller than the Wild Turkey and about the same size as an American Crow.
  • In the winter, Ruffed Grouse have projections that grow to the sides. It makes it look like they have combs on their feet. It’s theorized that these projections are basically shoes for the snow.
  • These birds got their name from the neck feathers that displaying males have. These feathers are a rich black ruff.
  • Ruffed Grouse are able to digest some of the most bitter plants. In addition, they can eat plants that are toxic that other bird species wouldn’t even be able to consume a small amount of.
  • Along with pheasants, Ruffed Grouse are some of the most popular game birds in North America.
  • Ruffed Grouse are known for their drumming display. This display is done by male Ruffed Grouse, and they don’t drum on anything but air. Instead, the bird will quickly rotate its wings backward and forward. When they do this, air rushes in beneath the wings creating a tiny vacuum that creates a deep, thumping sound wave. This sound can carry up to a quarter of a mile!
  • These birds prefer to stay in their preferred habitat year-round, meaning they do not migrate.
  • The Ruffed Grouse are preyed on by several animals. Most common predators include coyotes, foxes, and even falcons and hawks. They are also considered to be respected game birds in several states, such as Kentucky, Minnesota, and Virginia. However, hunting is prohibited in some states, like Indiana, where these birds have been added to the state’s endangered list.
  • According to eBird data, it’s 210th most popular bird of Pennsylvania.

 

Identification

The Ruffed Grouse is a fairly small grouse with long, fan-shaped tails and triangular, short crests. They often look slimmer than other grouse species and have short legs.

They’re 15.8 to 19.7 inches long, weigh 15.9 to 26.5 ounces, and have a wingspan of 19.7 to 25.2 inches.

These birds have elaborately patterned plumage with dark spots and bars on either a grayish or reddish-brown background. They have dark bars that go down the side of the neck and continue and broaden on the belly. The tail has one broad black band near the tip of the tail. The rest of it is finely barred.

Ruffed Grouse is the state bird of Pennsylvania

 

Call

Ruffed Grouse are relatively quiet birds, but they do sometimes make sounds. Hens have calls that involve a hiss-like alarm call, a pete-pete-peta-peta call made before flushing, or a nasal squeal.

In addition, they’ll emit a low, cooing hum to gather their brood and quiet their chicks with a scolding call. Male Ruffed Grouse calls involve a whining call triggered by other males or females near the drumming site, queet call before flushing, and a hiss note.

The male is the one to make the special drumming display. They’ll do it from on top of a stump, rock, or low log. The thumping sound is deep and starts slowly. Then, it builds up to a soft crescendo as the bird quickly rotates its wings forward and backward.

The drum sequence can be anywhere from 8 to 10 seconds; during this time, the wings can beat over 40 times. These drumming displays are most common just after and before sunrise. However, they can continue into the early evening as well.

 

Behavior

Ruffed Grouse are hard to spot. They have deliberate, slow movements and cryptic coloration. They forage by either walking along low tree branches and shrubs to pick buds and berries or on the forest floor.

Additionally, they bury themselves in soft snow to roost. Doing this causes surprise run-ins for skiers or snowshoers. The birds can erupt from underneath the pliant snow.

When breeding males defend their territory or display for females, the male Ruffed Grouse will stand on top of a small dirt mound, rock, or log, ruff, and erect its tail. They’ll puff up to almost double their size and beat their wings to make a drumming sound.

Ruffed Grouse

© Alan D. Wilson

A male who’s drumming will often set off a response in a male that’s defending their own territory nearby. Following their intricate display, the mating process only lasts a couple of seconds. Female Ruffed Grouse will move on to make a nest at the bottom of a rock or tree and raise the hatchlings on their own.

Although these birds are usually solitary, smaller groups of birds, including other species, may form in the winter or fall to take advantage of fruitful feeding spots.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the state animal of Pennsylvania?

The state animal of Pennsylvania is the White-tailed Deer, which also happens to be the state animal of many other states, including Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan.

What is the state insect of Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania’s state insect is the firefly, which has been their state insect since 1974.

About the Author

Brianna Goulet

Brianna loves to get outdoors for everything creative and fun. She has a passion for birds and is a hobbyist wildlife photographer based in Central Florida. Her goal is to share everything you need to know about birds so you can get out there, explore, and identify confidently!

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