Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Close Encounter with a Grouse

I was sitting at my desk putting some finishing touches on an article about fireflies, when I heard a resounding crash from the front of the building. A few seconds later, the front bell dinged, and a couple visitors came it. I figured the crash was them banging around out front. Then a man came in, rather flustered.

"Is there a ranger here?"

"You've got me," I said. "What can I do?"

"There's a bird out here. It hit the building and is injured. Can you come save it?"

We went right out. There, lying among the rocks bordering the hummingbird garden, was a ruffed grouse, and it had expired. The man was greatly saddened. As I lifted the bird, we could see its neck had been broken from its impact with the immoveable wall. A little blood glistened on its beak. I told him we'd put it in the freezer and see if anyone wanted it for a taxidermy specimen.

After they left, I took the bird back outside to get some photographs, for after all, how often does one get to see a ruffed grouse up this close?

The coloration on the neck feathers was stunning. This is where the ruff is located. When in full display, the male erects these feathers, making it look like it has a feathery version of an Elisabethan ruff around its neck. The chicks apparently find this very attractive.

When relaxed, the tail isn't much to brag about...

...but when it's fully displayed, it is a beautiful appendage.

I was surprised at the lack of coloration on the wings, though. When folded against the body, only the uppermost part is visible, and it shares the cryptic coloration of the rest of the body.

The head is topped with a small crest. Like many birds with similar decorations, these feathers are raised when the bird is excited.

I've mentioned in the past how grouse grow special scales on the sides of their toes that enable them to navigate a little better in deep snow.

Here's a close-up of the toes and those wonderful scales:

How beautiful is this? The colors are so perfectly suited for its environment, that when I went out to retrieve it, it took a few moments for me to actually see the bird, even though I was looking right at it.

Obviously, this was a tragedy for this bird, but at least it gave us an opportunity to see a grouse up close and admire it's beauty and adaptations.


  1. A sad event indeed, but fascinating to get to view the poor grouse up close. I especially love the close-up of the foot and the last shot of the feathers. Gorgeous! I wonder how it managed to fly right into the side of the building?

  2. Woodswoman - the only thing I can think of is that something startled the bird. They had a dog with them (on a leash), but maybe it made a noise that startled the bird. Of course, it is mating season, so perhaps the bird was simply "overwhelmed with emotion" and wasn't looking where it was going. I guess we'll never know.

  3. Indeed, sad for the bird, but super-lucky for us to see such beautiful plumage.

    I've been seeing lots of Grouse in the woods, but never up close like this! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Have been to the VIC many times and love it. Did the Grouse hit into glass? If it did, just wondering if there are silhouettes on the glass?

  5. Yeh, amazing how well camouflaged they are, isn't it. I've seen several pictures of RUGR from up your way, and it seems you have a preponderance of grey-phase. Can you comment on this?

  6. Anonymous - I believe the bird actually hit the stone wall out front. I've checked the windows, and there are no prints or feathers attached.

    Catharus - Here's what the Ruffed Grouse Society has to say about color phase: "Red-phased grouse become more prevalent in milder climates, and the gray birds are more abundant where winter climates are more severe. On the Pacific Coast from Washington south and from New York south in the Appalachians, nearly all Ruffed Grouse are red-phased." I think that we can safely say that the Adirondacks falls into the more severe winter climate category...usually. I don't know why temperature would have an effect on color, though. I'd think that habitat would play a more important role. Perhaps grey blends in better with northern winters, where grey tree trunks and a dull landscape dominate. Red/rufous coloration may stick out more against white snow.

  7. The intricacy of the feather patterns, the beautiful feet, just awe-inspiring to look at nature up close.

  8. Thanks for not being squeamish about showing this to us. I hope you are able to get it stuffed especially since there are no holes in it. i hate to see a bird wasted. The scales on the feet were just so cool.

  9. Over the years I've had a few of these birds crash into the large south facing window of my Adirondack cabin. I think that they see the reflection of the sky and thing it's a clear path to their flight. That or they are after the cluster flies that gather on the inside of the window on a sunny day. I even had one fly into the living room once when I opened the sliding glass door in the hopes the flies would head outdoors. Luckily, that bird made a successful escape after just one or two false tries to get through the solid glass portion of the sliding glass door! It only left a few feathers behind.

    Great photographs of the plummage and toe scales!