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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.

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Calls

Ruffed Grouse are mostly quiet, but they do make sounds. Female calls include a nasal squeal or hiss-like alarm call, and a pete-pete-peta-peta call made before flushing. They quiet chicks with a scolding call and emit a low, cooing hum to gather their brood. Male calls include a hiss note, a queet call prior to flushing, and a whining call triggered by females or other males near the drumming site.

Other

The male Ruffed Grouse’s unique drumming display takes place from atop a low log, stump, or rock. The deep, thumping sound starts slowly and builds to a blurred crescendo as the bird rapidly rotates his wings back and forth. A drumming sequence last lasts 8–10 seconds, during which the wings may beat up to 50 times. Displays are most frequent just before and after sunrise, although they can continue into early evening. Listen for male’s drumming on moonlit nights, too.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.