• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Ruffed Grouse

Bonasa umbellus ORDER: GALLIFORMES FAMILY: PHASIANIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The dappled, grayish or reddish Ruffed Grouse is hard to see, but its “drumming on air” display is a fixture of many spring forests. It can come as a surprise to learn this distant sound, like an engine trying to start, comes from a bird at all. This plump grouse has a cocky crest and a tail marked by a broad, dark band near the tip. Displaying males expose a rich black ruff of neck feathers, giving them their name.

Yard Map Attract More Birds
Optics Planet birding kit

Keys to identification Help

Gamebirds
Gamebirds
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Ruffed Grouse are fairly small grouse with a short, triangular crest and a long, fan-shaped tail. They have short legs and often look slimmer than other grouse species.

  • Color Pattern

    Ruffed Grouse are intricately patterned with dark bars and spots on either a reddish-brown or grayish background. Dark bars down the side of the neck continue and widen on the belly. The tail is finely barred, with one wide, black band near the tip.

  • Behavior

    Look for Ruffed Grouse foraging on the forest-interior floor for seeds and insects. Displaying males make a deep, airy drumming sound by beating their wings while standing on a log. In spring you’ll likely see lone birds; in summer look for females with broods of chicks. Winter birds form flocks and often eat buds of deciduous trees.

  • Habitat

    Ruffed Grouse usually occupy mixed deciduous and coniferous forest interiors with scattered clearings. They also live along forested streams and in areas growing back from burning or logging.

Range Map Help

Ruffed Grouse Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Displaying rufous-morph male

    Ruffed Grouse

    Displaying rufous-morph male
    • Stock gamebird usually seen on ground
    • In display, males extended darker "ruff" feathers on sides of neck and fan tail
    • Long, rounded tail either rich rufous or gray, always with black band at tip
    • Slight crest
    • © Tim Lenz, New York, April 2009
  • Gray-morph

    Ruffed Grouse

    Gray-morph
    • Stocky, heavily-patterned, chicken-like bird of dense forests
    • Slight crest
    • Very short, small bill
    • Pale whitish belly with dark blotches, more densely patterned with gray or rufous above
    • © Greg Schneider, Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada, October 2007
  • Displaying rufous-morph male

    Ruffed Grouse

    Displaying rufous-morph male
    • Males display by beating wings against sides to produce deep, mechanical "drumming" noise
    • Black "ruff" feathers extended from sides of neck of displaying male
    • Short, rounded wings
    • © Beau Liddell, Royalton, Minnesota, April 2010
  • Gray-morph

    Ruffed Grouse

    Gray-morph
    • Stocky, heavily-patterned, chicken-like bird of dense woods
    • Occasionally seen scrambling through low bushes and trees to find buds and seeds
    • Long tail
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Minnesota
  • Displaying gray-morph male

    Ruffed Grouse

    Displaying gray-morph male
    • Stocky, heavy-bodied gamebird usually found on ground
    • Displaying male extends black "ruff" and fans black-tipped tail
    • Legs fully feathered down to toes
    • © Robert Drozda, Alaska, April 2012

Similar Species

  • Female

    Spruce Grouse

    Female
    • Similar to female Ruffed Grouse but colder gray and darker overall with "golden flecks" in plumage
    • Rounded head with no crest
    • Uniformly-colored tail with no dark band at tip
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Lake County, Minnesota, February 2008
  •  

    Sharp-tailed Grouse

     
    • Similar to Ruffed Grouse but paler, especially on face and neck
    • Solid white rump and under-tail
    • © CVbirder, Richmond, Utah, January 2011
  • Female

    Ring-necked Pheasant

    Female
    • Similar to female Ruffed Grouse but larger, with longer neck and tail
    • Paler and more golden-brown overall
    • Rounded head with no crest
    • Usually found in open fields, not in forest
    • © Ron Kube, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, January 2010

Similar Species

The Ruffed Grouse’s distinctive short crest helps separate it from other grouse. Spruce Grouse are are slightly smaller than Ruffed Grouse and much darker overall—more black and white compared to the Ruffed Grouse’s brown and gray. Spruce Grouse also have short, black tails. Dusky Grouse (in the Rockies) and Sooty Grouse (of the West Coast) are both larger than Ruffed Grouse. Both species are mostly dark grayish-brown with lighter spotting and barring, instead of the light or reddish background color of Ruffed Grouse. Sharp-tailed Grouse live in more open country, typically among shrubs rather than forest. They are paler brown with white bellies and long, pointed tails. Female Ring-necked Pheasants are found in more open habitats; they have a much longer tail and are paler brown overall.

Find This Bird

Seeing the secretive Ruffed Grouse can be quite difficult—although it can be easy to hear them when they are drumming. To track one down, note the locations where you hear drumming males—this is generally most frequent very early in the morning. Otherwise, you may encounter foraging birds simply by walking slowly and quietly through appropriate forest, or while driving along narrow forested roads. In winter, watch for Ruffed Grouse feeding on deciduous-tree buds in bare treetops along a road.