Spring comes late in my part of the world, but I know it’s almost here when I hear the first exciting drum roll of the courting Ruffed Grouse. Usually, though, I at first mistake it for an all terrain vehicle or motorcycle that’s complaining of the cold as someone tries to start it up. It turns over a few times and then catches, runs roughly for a few seconds and abruptly stalls out. Then in a few minutes it does it again. “Bup…bup…bup…bup, bup, bupupupup, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”
Sometime in early April the male ruffed grouse chooses a territory with a nice, old, preferably hollow log to use as his bandstand. There he will stand, with ruff fluffed out and tail fanned, and he will drum on and off for hours and days until the girl of his dreams decides that he’s the best drummer around.
The Ruffed Grouse is at home in a mixed wood forest. The grouse pictured here live in the mixed wood ravine of an otherwise coniferous forest and nest in the aging willows. Ruffed grouse are distinguishable from the Spruce Grouse, which is more adapted to the boreal forest proper, by the distinctive crest on the top of the head. There are other markings, among them the black-banded tail, but I’ve found that the crest is the easiest way to tell the difference.
I’m used to being confused by seasonal plumage, but grouse are also masters at camouflage and talented shape-shifters. They can disappear in a heart beat. A flurry of flapping wings will be all you see if you startle them, but if they see you coming they will run behind a tree. In either case you’re not likely to find them again. They hide easily right under your nose, shaping themselves as a broken tree limb or a pile of leaves.