My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Spruce Grouse, Falcipennis canadensis

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Spruce Grouse, Falcipennis canadensis

The Spruce Grouse or Canada Grouse is a medium-sized grouse closely associated with the coniferous boreal forests or taiga of North America. It is one of the most arboreal grouse, fairly well adapted to perching and moving about in trees. When approached by a predator, it relies on camouflage and immobility to an amazing degree, for example letting people come to within a few feet before finally taking flight, a behavior that has earned it the moniker “fool hen”.

Spruce Grouse are 38–43 cm (15–17 in) long; males weigh 550–650 g (19–23 oz) and females 450–550 g (16–19 oz). Races vary slightly in plumage, especially in the tail pattern and in the extent of white on the underparts, but in general adult males are mainly grey above and black below, with white spots along the side, and a red patch of bare skin over the eye. Adult females are mottled brown (red morph) or mottled grey (grey morph) with dark and white bars on the underparts. Juveniles resemble females. Females may be confused with Ruffed Grouse but they have a dark tail with a pale band at the end (while the reverse is true in Ruffed Grouse) and they do not erect their crown feathers when alarmed the way Ruffed Grouse do.

As a specialist of the taiga, the Spruce Grouse is found throughout Canada. In the United States, it is present in Alaska, Maine, northern Michigan, northeastern Minnesota, and the montane coniferous forests of Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

Spruce Grouse are always associated with conifer-dominated forests, be they pine, spruce, or fir. They seem to prefer young successional stands. In summer they can be found near rich under story of blueberries and other shrub, and in winter they prefer denser stands.

The staple food is conifer needles, clipped directly from the tree, preferably the mid-crown of pines though other conifers are exploited as well. In summer the birds can also forage on the ground, eating berries, green plants, fungi, and some insects. In winter, when only needles are consumed, the caeca (dead-end extensions of the intestines) increase in size to support digestion. The crop is also well-developed: up to 45 cc of needles (about 10% of body mass) can be stored in the crop at the end of the day, to be digested over the duration of the night fast. Like other birds, Spruce Grouse consume grit or small stones to help their gizzard break down food. Chicks under 1-week old feed on insects and other arthropods, then switch to berries and fungi until the fall, when they start feeding on needles.

Males are promiscuous; they disperse and advertise a territory that is visited by females for mating. Females are solely responsible for the rest of the reproductive effort. For a nest, they scratch a depression in the ground in a bush or under a low-lying coniferous branch or fallen tree, away from other females and from the males’ territories. The nest is lined with grasses, leaves, and a few feathers. Nesting season is from early May to early July. Up to 10 eggs may be laid, the usual number being 4-7. Laying rate is 1 egg every 1.4 days. Eggs are about 40 mm in length (1.5 inches) and are tawny olive or buff, marked with blotches of brown. Incubation begins with the last egg laid and lasts about 24 days. Young are about 15 g at hatching (0.5 ounces) and they are precocial; they walk out of the nest as soon as they are dry (about 8 h after hatching). They are capable of fluttering up from the ground at 1 week of age. The brood stays together and is accompanied by the hen, who broods them all night and frequently during the day until the young are 3–5 weeks old. Brooding behavior of the female seems to be initiated by specific calls from the chicks when they are cold. At 70–100 days of age, chicks tend to leave the group and become independent. Females breed only once a year. Most females first breed at 1 year of age, but about half the males delay establishing a territory until 2 years. The species’ lifespan appears to be about 5–6 years in the wild, though one study in Southwestern Alberta has found two males and one female that lived to be at least 13 years old.

This species prefers to walk on the ground or along tree limbs rather than fly. Like other grouse, in the fall they grow “snow shoes” (short lateral extensions, or pectinations) on their toes. This increases the surface area of the toes and helps support the bird on snow and probably to grip branches as well. The pectinations are shed in the spring. Flights are usually over short distances, most commonly from the ground to a tree nearby, or vice-versa. Flight can be rapid but no actual measures of velocity have been made.

On to my photos:

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

This is number 126 in my photo life list, only 224 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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16 responses

  1. A very interesting/beautiful bird! We’ve seen a few up in Canada.

    October 1, 2013 at 9:39 am

    • Thanks Robert, to me, they are a species that represent the north country.

      October 1, 2013 at 9:42 am

  2. Such a beautiful game bird! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these. We normally see the ruffed grouse, but then they are hard to “see” as we normally scare up a covey when we are hiking, so we only see them flying away!

    October 1, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    • Thanks! I don’t think that they are present in the lower peninsula, at least I’ve never seen them here.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:03 pm

  3. Aw, so cute, too!!! Ya know, I misread this as “spruce goose” when I first looked but, of course, I’m confusing this adorable little bird with that giant airplane. Must need more coffee… 😉

    October 1, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    • Thanks, it’s hard not to confuse spruce grouse with spruce goose, I wonder if the grouse would mind being called geese? Wait, spruce geese just doesn’t have the same ring to it as spruce goose.

      October 2, 2013 at 1:54 am

  4. That’s a pretty bird. I wonder if it’s the one that scares me half to death every time I almost step on it in the high grass.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    • Thanks, I would assume that the ones that scare you are ruffed grouse, also called thunderbirds because of how loud their wingbeats are as they fly.

      October 2, 2013 at 1:55 am

  5. Another handsome bird.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    • Thanks Tom!

      October 2, 2013 at 1:55 am

  6. Only if you would know how much I love this bird and how much I want one day to take some photos of it.
    We have in our country (mountains area) The Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) but never saw it….
    oh… one day…I will…
    Great photos!!!

    October 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    • Thanks! I’m sure that you’ll get your bird one of these days, soon.

      October 2, 2013 at 1:58 am

  7. This guy reminds me a bit like a larger version of our quail.

    October 3, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    • That’s not surprising, they are in the same family.

      October 4, 2013 at 1:06 am

  8. When I saw this on your banner slideshow I went WOW !! DOUBLE WOW !! Fantastic captures.

    October 6, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    • Thanks, but that one was too easy. It was in the road as I left the campground, I shot a couple through the open window, then got out of my vehicle and walked right up to the grouse.

      October 6, 2013 at 9:21 pm