Nature Bulletin No. 260-A March 11, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
A hundred years ago, one of the first signs of spring in our Illinois
woodlands was the continued drumming of the Ruffed Grouse cocks,
commonly but wrongly called Partridge (which was pronounced
"Patridge"). Both a love call to females and a challenge to other males,
the sound begins as a deep-toned hollow "thump, thump, thump" like
the muffled beating of a great heart, quickens into a drumming toll like
distant thunder, and ends as a rapid whir. Every few minutes, for hours
at a time, a cock performs day after day, and often spring after spring,
on his favorite drumming spot -- usually a large fallen log.
This drumming can be peculiarly deceiving, both as to the direction and
the distance from which it comes. It is made by the cupped wings
striking the air and not, as most people believe, by striking the wings
together, nor by striking the body or the log. Cocks occasionally drum
in the other months of the year particularly in autumn, but mostly from
early March until early May.
These birds were formerly found in most of the wooded areas of the
United States and Canada, as far south as northern Georgia and as far
north as Alaska. In Illinois they disappeared about 50 years ago. In
Indiana they survived 10 or 20 years longer. In the forested sections of
many states they are still fairly plentiful; thriving best in second-growth
hardwood forests with occasional openings, along forest edges and, in
the north, where there are scattered evergreens for winter cover.
The ruffed grouse is a large reddish brown or grayish brown bird
resembling a small domestic fowl in shape. A strutting male at mating
time, with his crested head encircled by the raised ruff or collar, his tail
held high and spread into a large wide fan, is a sight to gladden the eye.
The ruff is purplish black with a metallic sheen. The rich brown tail
feathers are crossed by six or more dark narrow bands and a broad
black band near the tips. Large males weigh up to 29 ounces. The
smaller, more modestly marked female occasionally struts but her ruff
is less conspicuous and her tail is shorter.
The hen conceals her nest on the ground by a big tree or stump, a log,
or a brush pile -- usually near a wood's edge or an opening. She
generally lays 10 or 12 eggs which hatch after 21 to 23 days of
incubation. The chicks are able to run almost as soon as hatched and
roam through the woodlands, guarded by the mother, eating mostly
insects. After the first week they can flutter short distances and after
three weeks they are good fliers, As they grow, their diet gradually
changes to include more and more leaves, flowers, wild strawberries,
seeds, and wild fruits such as red haws, crabapples, grapes, rose hips
and a variety of berries. In autumn they add acorns, hazelnuts and other
large seeds to their menu. In winter, grouse feed upon the buds from
trees such as birch, aspen, poplar, willow, maple, elm and ash, but they
can also subsist on dead leaves and tender twigs. They spend the winter
in flocks of 3 to 6, or more, males and females, roosting in trees during
mild weather. In severe weather, at night, they crouch under snowladen
branches or dive into deep soft snow.
Grouse have many enemies -- especially foxes, horned owls, skunks,
weasels and certain hawks -- but their worst enemy is man. They have
become one of the wariest of game birds but frequently flush, almost
beneath a hunter's feet, with a nerve-shattering roar and are gone before
he can gather his wits to shoot.
This causes much grousing.
To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Update: June 2012