Natured Speak - Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) 

By Max Gotz,

Whistler Naturalists

Ruffed Grouse are best known for the male’s spectacular drumming display. The male bird plants himself firmly on a log, stump, or some other slightly raised platform, braces his tail, spreads his wings and begins to snap them sharply back and forth. Each time the male snaps his wings, air rushes into a momentary vacuum and creates a miniature sonic boom and a drum like noise. The 10 second display starts with a few slow beats and ends in a continuous drum like roll.

Both sexes of Ruffed Grouse have a small erectile crest of feathers on the head, and the male also has a tuft of feathers which can be erected into a ruff around the neck designed to attract females and to warn other males off his territory.

Ruffed Grouse are ground nesters and thus exposed to a wide range of predators and other hazards so the only chance for a young Ruffed Grouse chick is to grow up fast. They are hatched with eyes open and within 24 hours can feed themselves and leave the nest. For a few weeks young chicks are extremely susceptible to coyotes, hawks, owls, and our own unrestrained pets.

Although the chicks can feed themselves, they still need Mom’s help to find the best feeding areas; thick brushy and shrubby areas close to water are favoured and the chicks will quadruple their body weight in the first couple of weeks by feeding on rose hips, highbush cranberry, young cottonwood buds, and insects.

In Whistler, the Ruffed Grouse was restricted to the valley bottom between Alta and Green Lakes until logging created areas of early successional stage forest with its thick brush and fruiting trees and shrubs, and Ruffed Grouse are now found in many lower elevation clearcuts.

As local forests mature, valley bottom areas may again become critical habitat making the Ruffed Grouse a species to watch in Whistler.

Upcoming Events :

March 3 — Monthly Bird Walk. Meet at the base of Lorimer Road at 8 a.m. Contact Michael Thompson (932-5010) for more information.

Sightings and Memberships: NatureSpeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To become a member or to report noteworthy sightings of mammals, birds, or other species, contact Lee Edwards (905-6448; e-mail:


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