Over the years, I’ve had several encounters with Ruffed Grouse, the most common and widespread grouse species in Alberta. On winter rambles, I’ve come upon the plunge holes where they have spent a cold winter’s night snug under the snow. Last winter, we were delighted to have two resident grouse feed on the scattered seeds beneath the bird feeders and dine on the willow tree buds. In the spring, I’ve spent many an hour watching the males drum and, in early summer, have seen grouse families. Encountering a mother and her chicks is always a thrill. At first, a defensive mother tries to be intimidating (she raises her crest feathers, fluffs out her neck ruff, spreads her tail, makes threatening sounds and charges) but if that doesn’t work, she drops to the ground and freezes in place. A couple summers ago, I got my first-ever glimpse of newly hatched chicks (called cheepers). It is my opinion that they are the most adorable of all baby birds!
My most recent encounter with a grouse was in early September, when a friend and I had the good fortune to spend a few days in the Nordegg area. While ambling through a mixed-wood forest area, we heard a grouse drumming. Male grouse will sometimes drum in the fall because the hours of daylight match those of spring, reactivating their hormones. It is thought that fall drumming may also serve as a territorial notice; a message to other males that the log/area has already been claimed and will be used again in the spring.
This male was extremely tame, so we spent some interesting hours watching and photographing him. After about 10 minutes of drumming on a high log, he seemed to lose interest and wandered off. Just when we thought he had disappeared, he ambled across the path in front of us, nibbling away at small buds. It was remarkable how well camouflaged he was, his plumage perfectly matching that of the underbrush. He melted again into the trees, but just as we were about to leave the area, we heard him drumming again, this time from atop a steep ridge. We quietly made our way to this new spot and sat in awe a mere five metres away as he drummed every few minutes for the next half hour or so. He was obviously aware of our presence, as he would occasionally cast a glance our way. However, he must have considered us non-threatening because he continued to display. After snapping some images, we left him alone to boom his prowess to the other grouse in the valley.
We hope to return in the spring to see if this very cooperative male survived the winter and is back on his log.
I hope you enjoy a few grouse images that I've been able to collect over the years.
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