Merlin

Spruce Grouse Life History

Habitat

Habitat Forests

Spruce Grouse occur only in coniferous forests. In the eastern part of their range, red spruce, black spruce, white spruce, and balsam fir, sometimes with a component of larch, form most of its habitat. Here, lowland bogs and forest edges also hold grouse. In the Midwest, spruces and jack pine are important. In the West, Spruce Grouse occur in spruce forests as well as Douglas-fir, subalpine fir, lodgepole pine, shore pine, Engelmann spruce, hemlock, and cedar. In most cases, grouse select fairly dense stands of younger trees (20–50 feet high), often areas that are regenerating after fire or insect infestations. Females with young use more open forest, which provides more ground cover for protection, as well as more small plants and insect prey for the chicks. Grouse dispersing from natal areas in the autumn sometimes frequent deciduous forests.

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Food

Food Plants

Spruce Grouse eat mostly the needles of conifers, especially jack pine, lodgepole pine, white spruce, black spruce, and sometimes larch. They usually forage fairly high in trees, where they eat newer needles. Grouse forage on the ground as well, eating growing tips, flowers, and fruit of small plants, mushrooms, as well as small arthropods and terrestrial snails. Females lead chicks through undergrowth, where fungi and insects such as small grasshoppers are important parts of their diet. By late autumn the grown young have switched to the adult diet. In the warm months, blueberry plants (tips, leaves, flowers, and fruit) are an important staple where available.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Ground

The female selects the site for the nest, always on the ground and typically in a small depression at the base of a tree with overhanging branches that conceal the nest.

Nest Description

Nests are bowl-like depressions made with dead needles and leaves from near the nest, sometimes lined with breast feathers.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:4-9 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.2-1.6 in (3.1-4.2 cm)
Incubation Period:20-23 days
Egg Description:

Olive with variable spots.

Condition at Hatching:

Downy and able to follow mother.

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Behavior

Behavior Foliage Gleaner

Spruce Grouse walk quietly along the forest floor or along dirt roads through evergreen forest. When foraging high in the trees, their dark plumage blends well in the shadowy recesses of spruces or pines. They walk around in trees and are seldom seen in flight except when flushed or, in spring, when males perform their short display flight. Males and females both maintain their own individual territories, sometimes year-round, but females appear to be monogamous, whereas males often have more than one mate. Both sexes defend their territories against intruders of their sex. Males advertising their presence in spring regularly perform a flutter-flight display in which they fly up, almost vertically, into a tree branch, making a whirring sound with the wings. Most Franklin’s Spruce Grouse add a double wing-clap to the performance, produced by striking the wingtips together over the head. The male performs an animated courtship display when a female is near: he fluffs up his plumage raises the superciliary combs (above the eyes), drops the wings, bobs the head, swishes his tail, marches forward, fanning tail feathers with each step, then suddenly stops and fans the tail open. If a female is close by, the male will crouch, jerk the head from side to side, stamp his feet quickly, and open and close his tail. Spruce Grouse sometimes gather in small flocks in autumn, but they become solitary by springtime; some remain solitary year-round.

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Conservation

Conservation Low Concern

Although habitat loss has likely caused a decline in Spruce Grouse numbers since historic times, their recent population trend is positive. Partners in Flight estimates the species has more than doubled in number since 1970. The global breeding population is an estimated 11 million, and the species has a Continental Concern Score of 7 out of 20 indicating it is of low conservation concern. Spruce Grouse is listed as endangered or threatened in some states at the edge of its range. These birds have historically inhabited forests showing a fire-maintained patchwork of various stages of regeneration. Fire suppression can upset this pattern and timber harvesting only partially recreates the landscape.

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Credits

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Schroeder, Michael A., Erik J. Blomberg, David A. Boag, Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten. (2018). Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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