Today's guest entry is from Dee Kuder, of Crane Lake Nature Blog, writing about the life and habits of the Spruce Grouse.
This bird is definitely one of very all time favorites! In fact, some of my friends could say that I am totally obsessed with this bird. I was lucky to find a very cooperative male Spruce Grouse the other day on the Echo Trail.
This photo shows the beautiful sculpting of the back feathers. This bird may be just gray and black, but if you look closely the pattern of the feathers on his back side are stunning.
There’s good reason that back in the old days, this Grouse was called “Fools Hen”. They seem to be completely unfamiliar with people. Just imagine living life in the deep forest with an unlimited supply of food - they live off of Jack Pine and Spruce needles. Their predators are probably few and far between, and if they are being hunted by something, the places that they live, in the deep cover of a Spruce swamp, could deter any attacks. Maybe the terrible taste of their flesh is also a deterrent. Spruce Grouse can be legally hunted, and an estimated 20,000 were taken last year in Minnesota, although I don’t know why anyone would want to cook them up. I’ve heard that the taste of pine neeedles is what they’re all about.
Unfortunately, the Spruce Grouse may be taking the same path as Moose in northern Minnesota. For the past 60 years their numbers have been steadily declining. They may be extirpated (species that formerly occurred in the state but have disappeared and aren’t expected to recur) in northern Minnesota in the near future, just as a downturn in the Moose population is feared. I have heard from some of the locals here in Crane Lake that Spruce Grouse were once common. Now they are considered a very rare bird. Only a few pockets of remote forest around northern Minnesota currently hold these birds. I would love to hear some more stories about this Grouse, please contact me with any comments.
The Spruce Grouse is the only Grouse where you can readily tell the female from the male. Some people can get confused when they see a female Sprucey and think they are seeing a Ruffed Grouse. The Ruffed Grouse is the only Grouse that has a crest - Spruceys will always have a round head. The other very reliable field mark is the chestnut or rufous colored tips on their tail feathers. Both males and females have this marking. Of course, the male is unmistakable - they are beautiful birds!
Notice the calm expression in this photo, the red above his eye is hardly showing…
Now he’s a little more excited with his enlarged red eye combs.
Now he’s up and displaying, notice the chestnut colored tips on his tail. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMrDVBvFAd4[/youtube] The Spruce Grouse in this video was displaying. The most striking thing about this video was the way he was seemingly able to control each and every one of his breast feathers. The way he was moving them around made me think he was trying to hypnotize whatever he was trying to influence. Whether it was a female that he was impressing with his wiley ways or another male that he was trying to prove his manhood to, I don’t know, but this bird is absolutely beautiful! Can you tell I love this bird?