Living Bird Magazine
Spruce GrouseFalcipennis canadensis
- ORDER: Galliformes
- FAMILY: Phasianidae
The Spruce Grouse is a dapper species of evergreen forests in northern and western North America. Males are brown-black with neat white spots and, during displays, a searing red eyebrow comb. Females are intricately scaled with brown, buff, and white. These chickenlike birds eat mostly the needles of fir, spruce, and pine, an aromatic diet that makes them unpalatable to many hunters. Spruce Grouse are famous for their tameness around humans—they’re sometimes known as “fool hens”—but this works well for bird watchers hoping for good views.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Search for Spruce Grouse in their beautiful North Woods habitat. You’ll need patience to find these well-hidden woodland birds; for best results focus on relatively young and dense coniferous woods. In midsummer, keep an eye out for large broods of chicks walking with their mother or taking refuge in low tree branches. Earlier in the season, listen out for the wing and tail noises made by displaying males.
- Gallo Canadiense (Spanish)
- Tétras du Canada (French)
- Cool Facts
- The Spruce Grouse’s tameness has made it familiar to early explorers and to residents of the North, where it still enjoys folk names such as fool hen, swamp partridge, spotted grouse, and mus-ko-de’-se, the latter apparently from the Chippewa name for the species.
- Most grouse use their feet, wings, and tails to produce sounds for their courtship displays. Spruce Grouse make swishes and whooshes with their tails. In the swish, the strutting male sweeps his tail to one side as he steps with the opposite foot, making him seem to wobble. The tail feathers make a soft, rasping sound as tiny protrusions on each feather catch on the feathers underneath. The whoosh comes from the male suddenly fanning his tail open, much as a person in past centuries might have snapped open a fan.
- A Spruce Grouse can store up to 10% of its body weight in food, in its crop—a pouch between the throat and stomach. This allows the bird to digest the food in safety or during a long, cold night.
- The Spruce Grouse's digestive organs change with seasonal shifts in diet. In winter, when the bird must eat more food to maintain its mass and energy balance, the gizzard (which grinds up hard-to-digest food) grows by about 75%, and intestines increase in length by about 40%.