Ruffed Grouse photo by Dave Herr
Vermont forests are slowly awakening with a chorus of bird sounds. Juncos are giving their bell-like trills, creepers circle the trees giving their melodic song, and phoebes are singing their name-sake, while chickadees give their own rendition. Soon the warblers and flycatchers will return and add their songs to fill in the missing notes. Underscoring it all is the low booming drum of the Ruffed Grouse.
Ruffed Grouse, or partridge as they are locally known, select logs or rocks slightly raised from the forest floor to advertise their presence to females and competing males. Contrary to popular belief, the drumming sound is not made by the wings beating the chest, but is actually made by the rushing of air filling the vacuum created by the fast beating of the wings. They are miniature sonic booms. Starting off slowly, grouse gradually increase the tempo and produce 50 beats in the 10 second-long drum.
Most people will admit that their heart has, on occasion, skipped a few beats as they flush a grouse trailside and it jets off through the trees. In the summer months you might even have been fortunate enough to witness their intense distraction display. The hen cowers down with feathers ruffled out and scurries back-and-forth across the ground while barking as her dozen chicks hide in the leaves and shrubs nearby.
While grouse have exceptional cryptic coloring to match leaf litter, they also have special adaptations for winter. In late September their feet begin to grow little tooth-like projections called pectinations that act like snowshoes. They also sometimes burrow into the snow to spend the night, similar to an igloo. Imagine being surprised by a bird exploding out of snow!
Vermonters also enjoy grouse at the dinner table. Hunting can be a controlling factor of bird populations, but this doesn’t appear to be true for Ruffed Grouse. Many people have studied grouse biology and local and regional populations seem to be regulated by aging and available habitat. In the northern part of their range, their population fluctuates with snowshoe hare abundance. When the hare population declines, large predators such as owls and Northern Goshawks look for a substitute food source and heavily prey upon grouse.
Ruffed Grouse drum throughout the year, but drumming peaks in late April-early May with another resurgence in October. Grouse are drumming across
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You can explore all the birds reported last week in