birds

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis)

The Spruce Grouse, Falcipennis canadensis, is a medium-sized grouse.

Spruce Grouse Perched on Tree
Spruce Grouse Perched on Tree

Distribution

Their breeding habitat is the boreal forests or taiga across Alaska and Canada.

It also occurs in the boreal forest that extends into the United States’ northern border states.

They nest on the ground in dense growth.

Description

Adults have a long square black tail. Adult males are mainly grey with a black breast with white bars, a black throat, and a red patch over the eye. Adult females are mottled brown with dark and white bars on the underparts.

While the nominate species has rusty tips to the tail feathers, Franklin’s Grouse (D. c. franklinii) lacks these and instead has white tips to the tail coverts.

Spruce Grouse on Tall Grass
Spruce Grouse on Tall Grass

Diet / Feeding

These birds forage on the ground or in trees in winter. The caeca, digestive sacs in the intestines, increase in size to support this bird’s winter diet of conifer needles. In summer, they also eat berries, green plants, and some insects.

Behavior

The Spruce Grouse has great confidence in its camouflage, and will often stay still even when approached within a few feet (1 m). It is this characteristic that has earned them the nickname “Fool Hens”.

During the winter months, however, the Spruce Grouse will become very skittish due to a lack of camouflage; they take flight when approached within 20-150 feet (6-45 m). A male on the territory makes a drumming sound by flapping his wings.

Less vocal than other grouse, it will make some soft calls including hoots and clucks. Males will sometimes flutter tails or wings.

Habitat

Spruce Grouse are permanent residents of coniferous forests, especially among those consisting of black spruce or jack pine. Some may move short distances by foot to a different location for winter.

Females with young may dwell at the edges of clear cuts but tend to remain close to conifers.

Food

Spruce Grouse Standing on the Tree
Spruce Grouse Standing on the Tree

Spruce grouse eat many pine and spruce tree buds, as they are high in energy.

They also tend to eat pebbles, to help their gizzard digest their food.

References

  • BirdLife International (2004). Dendragapus canadensis. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. BirdLife International (2004). Dendragapus canadensis. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  1. Stucker, S. Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, September-October 2009. MN Department of Natural Resources. 73.
  2. Stucker, S. Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, September-October 2009. MN Department of Natural Resources. 73.

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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