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A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

Ruffed Grouse Bonasa

Ruffed Grouse Bonasa umbellus Male Ruffed Grouse on drumming log — Photo: Marie Read agriculture and urban centres. Breeding Bird Survey data indicate that numbers of Ruffed Grouse have declined in Canada by 2.6 percent annually since 1968. Throughout most of its range, populations of Ruffed Grouse increase and decrease on an eight to 11 year cycle. These cycles are correlated with snowshoe hares. When hare populations are high, predator populations increase too. When the hare numbers go down, the predators must find alternate prey and turn to grouse, decreasing their numbers. These cycles appear to be little affected by hunting. However, heavy harvesting of Ruffed Grouse from isolated patches appears to have led to its extirpation in southern portions of its range. Population limits seem to be mostly effected by aging and succession of forests and availability of suitable habitat. The distinctive drumming of the Ruffed Grouse is a sound heard in fewer and fewer locations as suburban sprawl, forest fragmentation, and expanding agriculture and commercial development rob this elusive game bird of habitat. Eastern populations are likely to continue to decline as deciduous forests mature and are fragmented by rural and suburban development. Identification (40–50 centimetres) The Ruffed Grouse is a cryptic chicken-sized, thick-bodied, game bird that spends most of its time on the forest floor. Many people’s first experience with the Ruffed Grouse occurs when it explodes from the ground in a flurry of wings. Otherwise, the grouse’s cryptic coloration and slow, deliberate walk make it virtually invisible. Although it is capable of rapid flight, it rarely flies more than a few hundred metres at a time. The Ruffed Grouse is grey and brown, mottled with dark and light spots. It has feathered legs, a small crest, a dark neck ruff, dark barring along the flanks, and a round tail with a dark band near the outer edge. The sexes are similar in appearance although the male is slightly larger with a more prominent crest, ruff, and tail. Conservation Status The Ruffed Grouse does not migrate and, once established, lives all its life within a few hectares. Though common throughout most of Canada, it is absent or declining in areas dominated by Breeding Biology The Ruffed Grouse is resident in deciduous and mixed forests in central Alaska, throughout Canada, and southward to northern California, Utah, and northern Alabama. During the breeding season, males attract females and warn off other males by making a drumming sound with their wings, often while standing on a downed log. Receptive females will visit a territory to copulate, but do not remain there. In fact, they may visit many other males before going off to a new area to build a nest and raise young on their own. In Ontario, the Ruffed Grouse breeds from late April through early July, raising a single brood. The female lays nine to12 white to buff coloured eggs that are plain or occasionally spotted. The nest is built on the ground in a shallow depression and is typically placed at the base of a tree, stump, boulder, or in a brush pile. The nest site is usually in an area that is fairly open at ground level to allow for a good view of surroundings and potential predators. Young leave the nest within 24 hours and feed themselves, though they remain close to the protective female for several weeks. 100 Bird Species Accounts

Diet The Ruffed Grouse diet is composed of about 80 percent plant matter and 20 percent animal matter. Its main food consists of buds, twigs, catkins, leaves, ferns, soft fruits, acorns, and some insects. It forages mostly on and near the ground, but can often be seen feeding on buds and catkins in trees. Management Guidelines The Ruffed Grouse inhabits early to mid-successional habitats in deciduous, coniferous, or mixed woodlands. Optimal habitat includes mixed hardwoods dominated by aspens and poplars, maturing conifers, open areas, and brushy areas. Silviculture practices that benefit Ruffed Grouse include removing small patches through group selection or small clear cuts to create edge habitat and brushy cover. Prescribed burning can be used to maintain the early successional condition of these patches. Cutting and burning should be used in moderation to create a variety of successional stages and maintain patches of early to mid-successional habitat. How to Find The cryptic colouration and slow walk of the Ruffed Grouse make it rather difficult to spot. Its presence is usually only given away by its sudden flushing from the ground upon close approach. In spring, it is easier to listen for the “drumming” sound of the male grouse, which can carry a considerable distance through the forest. Look for a prominent log, stump, or rock in the vicinity of this sound and you may see him perched on it, beating his wings. Did you know? • Grouse have the ability to digest plant matter with high concentrations of bitter and toxic chemicals. This ability allows them to survive on aspen buds during harsh winters when there is little else to eat. • Ruffed Grouse can swim short distances. • Ruffed Grouse will often roost beneath the snow on cold winter nights. • The Ruffed Grouse grows comb-like projections on its toes in the winter. It has been suggested that these projections may act like snow shoes! Photo: Brad Woodworth Bird Species Accounts 101

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