Grouse, a game bird of temperate Europe and North America. The grouse is related to the pheasant. Grouse are stocky, chickenlike birds from 16 to 30 inches (40 to 75 cm) long. They have small heads and short, thick bills. In a few species, the legs and feet are feathered. Grouse feed chiefly on vegetation. They spend most of their time on the ground, where they are well concealed by protective coloration.
The spruce grouse is also called the fool hen because it is easily caught.
During the mating season, the cocks strut, stamp their feet, and dance in order to attract hens. They also drum —they produce a dull, booming sound by rapidly beating their wings or, in some species, by inflating a pair of air sacs on the neck. A cock usually has a single mate, but in some species the cock mates with several hens. The female lays 7 to 12 olive-buff eggs in a grassy or leaf-lined depression on the ground. Young grouse are able to walk and run soon after hatching.
The ruffed grouse inhabits deciduous forests in Canada and the northern United States. It is sometimes called “pheasant” in the South and “partridge” in the northern states. It is brown with a fan-shaped tail and black feathered ruffs on the sides of the neck. The ruffed grouse is a highly prized game bird. It is the state bird of Pennsylvania.
The spruce grouse inhabits coniferous forests in Canada and the northern United States. The male is grayish-brown with a black throat, white-spotted sides, and a chestnut-tipped tail; the female is solid brown with brown and white underparts. The spruce grouse is also called fool hen because it is easily caught.
The sage grouse, found on dry plains in southern Canada and the western United States, is the largest species of grouse in North America. The cock grows to 30 inches (75 cm). He is gray above with a black throat and belly, pointed tail, and white collar and neck plumes. The female is smaller and has gray feathers with brown bars on the head and back. During courtship, the cock inflates a pair of yellow-green air sacs to attract a hen.
The sharp-tailed grouse inhabits grasslands in the western United States and Canada. It is brown with a pointed, white-tipped tail. Other prairie species include the greater prairie chicken and lesser prairie chicken.
The most common European species is the red grouse of England and Ireland. It is rusty brown and is found on the moors. The capercaillie is found in Scotland and western Asia.
The spruce grouse is named for the food it eats. This grouse eats the thin leaves, called needles, of spruce trees, as well as the needles of other evergreen trees. The spruce grouse lives in evergreen forests in North America. It spends most of its time in the trees, where it eats needles and small green buds from branches. Few animals can eat evergreen needles. They are hard to digest, and it is difficult to get nutrients from them. They are even poisonous to some animals. But, the stomach of the spruce grouse can break down needles safely so the bird can use them for food.
A ruffed grouse can use its wings to make a drumming sound. To make this sound, a ruffed grouse often perches on a log in the forest. The bird beats its wings back and forth very, very fast. The wings may beat 20 times each second. All of this wing-beating creates a thumping noise. The log amplifies the noise. A male ruffed grouse uses this drumming as a territorial display to keep other male ruffed grouses away.
Grouse belongs to the subfamily Tetraoninae, in the family Phasianidae. The ruffed grouse is Bonasa umbellus; spruce grouse, Falcipennis canadensis; sage grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus; sharp-tailed grouse, Pedioecetes phasianellus; red grouse, Lagopus scoticus. Prairie chickens belong to the genus Tympanuchus.