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.
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 Grouses have an estimated breeding population of 18 million; they’re rated 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. This means they’re a species of low concern.
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.
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 are smaller than Wild Turkeys 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.
- 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!
- According to eBird data, it’s 210th most popular bird of Pennsylvania
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 smaller than Wild Turkeys and about the same size as an American Crow. They’re 15.8 to 19.7 inches (40 to 50 centimeters) long, weigh 15.9 to 26.5 ounces (450 to 750 grams), and have a wingspan of 19.7 to 25.2 inches (50 to 64 centimeters).
These birds are elaborately patterned 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 are relatively quiet birds, but they do sometimes make sounds. Females 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.
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.
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.