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Ruffed grouse

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Ruffed grouse
Temporal range: Pleistocene–present
A displaying male at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Michigan, and a female at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Tribe: Tetraonini
Genus: Bonasa
Stephens, 1819
B. umbellus
Binomial name
Bonasa umbellus
   resident range
  • Tetrao umbellus Linnaeus, 1766
A male found at the Kortright Center for Conservation.

The ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) is a medium-sized grouse occurring in forests from the Appalachian Mountains across Canada to Alaska. It is the most widely distributed game bird in North America.[2] It is non-migratory. It is the only species in the genus Bonasa.

The ruffed grouse is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a "partridge", an unrelated phasianid, and occasionally confused with the grey partridge, a bird of open areas rather than woodlands.[3]

The ruffed grouse is the state game bird of Pennsylvania, United States.[4]


Ruffed Grouse by John J. Audubon c. 1861.

Bonasa umbellus was first described by Carl Linnaeus in his 1766 12th edition of Systema Naturae.[5] He classified it as Tetrao umbellus, placing it in a subfamily with Eurasian grouse. The genus Bonasa was applied by British naturalist John Francis Stephens in 1819.[6] Ruffed grouse is the preferred common name because it applies only to this species. Misleading vernacular names abound, however, and it is often called partridge (sometimes rendered pa'tridge, or shortened to pat),[7] pheasant, or prairie chicken, all of which are properly applied to other birds.[8] Other nicknames for ruffed grouse include drummer or thunder-chicken.[9]

The ruffed grouse has 13 recognized subspecies:[10]


Grey morph.

Ruffed grouse are chunky, medium-sized birds that weigh from 450–750 g (0.99–1.65 lb), measure from 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 in) in length and span 50–64 cm (20–25 in) across their short, strong wings.[11] They have two distinct morphs: grey and brown. In the grey morph, the head, neck, and back are grey-brown; the breast is light with barring. There is much white on the underside and flanks. Overall, the birds have a variegated appearance; the throat is often distinctly lighter. The tail is essentially the same brownish grey, with regular barring and a broad black band near the end ("subterminal"). Brown-morph birds have tails of the same color and pattern. However, the rest of the plumage is much more brown, giving the appearance of a more uniform bird with less light plumage below and a conspicuously grey tail. There are all sorts of intergrades between the most typical morphs; warmer and more humid conditions favor browner birds in general.[citation needed]

Displaying male.

The ruffs are on the sides of the neck in both sexes. They also have a crest on top of their head, which sometimes lies flat. Both sexes are similarly marked and sized, making them difficult to tell apart, even in hand. The female often has a broken subterminal tail band. At the same time, males tend to have unbroken tail bands, though the opposite of either can occur. Females may also do a display similar to the male. Another fairly accurate sign is that rump feathers with a single white dot indicate a female; rump feathers with more than one white dot indicate a male.[citation needed]

The average life span of a ruffed grouse is one year, although some birds are thought to live for as long as eleven years.[12][13] Ruffed grouse are polygynous, and males may mate with several females during the breeding season.[citation needed]


An egg.
Nest with large clutch.

Like most grouse, they spend most of their time on the ground; mixed woodland rich in aspen seems to be particularly well-liked. These birds forage on the ground or in trees. They are omnivores, eating buds, leaves, berries, seeds, and insects. According to nature writer Don L. Johnson:

More than any other characteristic, it is the ruffed grouse's ability to thrive on a wide range of foods that has allowed it to adapt to such a wide and varied range of habitat on this continent. A complete menu of grouse fare might itself fill a book. One grouse crop yielded a live salamander in a salad of watercress. Another contained a small snake.[14]


Snow hole and wing tracks of a grouse as it burst out of the snow when approached.

Hunting of the ruffed grouse is common in the northern and far western United States as well as Canada, often with shotguns. Dogs may also be used. Hunting of the ruffed grouse can be challenging. This is because the grouse spends most of its time in thick brush, aspen stands, and second growth pines. It is also very hard to detect a foraging grouse bobbing about in the thicket due to their camouflage. With adequate snow cover, they will burrow under the snow. The ruffed grouse will maintain trails through the underbrush and pines like other forest creatures. These can often be found by looking for the bird's feathers on the ground and twigs at the edges of its trail. Hunting of the ruffed grouse requires a good ear and lots of stamina as one will be constantly walking and listening for them in the leaves.[15]

— Joseph B. Barney

Ruffed grouse frequently seek gravel and clover along road beds during early morning and late afternoon. These are good areas to walk during this time to flush birds. Also, grouse use sandy roadbeds to dust their feathers to rid themselves of skin pests. Dusting sites are visible as areas of disturbed soils with some signs of feathers. Birds will return to these spots during the late afternoon to bathe in dust and socialize and mate.[citation needed]



The ruffed grouse differs from other grouse species in its courtship display. The ruffed grouse relies entirely on a non-vocal acoustic display, known as drumming, unlike other grouse species. The drumming itself is a rapid, wing-beating display that creates a low-frequency sound, starting slow and speeding up (thump ... thump ... thump..thump-thump-thump-thump). Even in thick woods, this can be heard for .25 miles (0.40 km) or more.

The ruffed grouse spends most of its time quietly on the ground, and when surprised, may explode into flight, beating its wings very loudly. They will burrow into the snow for warmth in the winter and may suddenly burst out of the snow when approached too closely.

The male grouse proclaims his property by engaging in a “drumming” display. This sound is made by beating his wings against the air to create a vacuum.[16] It usually stands on a log, stone or mound of dirt when drumming. It does not strike the log to make the noise, it only uses the “drumming log” as a sort of stage.[17]

The ruffed grouse population has a cycle, and follows the cycle no matter how much or how little hunting there is. The cycle has puzzled scientists for years, and is simply referred to as the "grouse cycle".[18][19][20][21][22][23][24] In spite of this historical cycle, populations have been declining in Pennsylvania and management plans adopted.[25][26] Habitat loss has been a concern for the species,[27][28][29] but the introduction of the West Nile virus has been seen to be further increasing mortality.[25][26][30][31][32][28]

See also



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Bonasa umbellus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22679500A131905854. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22679500A131905854.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Grouse Facts".
  3. ^ Haupt, J. (2001). "Bonasa umbellus". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  4. ^ "1931 Act 234". Pennsylvania General Assembly. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  5. ^ Linnaeus, C. (1766). Systema Naturae.
  6. ^ Stephens, J. F. (1819). General Zoology, Vol. XI, Pt. II: Aves. Vol. 11. Printed for G. Kearsley. p. 298.
  7. ^ Johnson, Chuck; Smith, Jason A. (2009). Wingshooter's Guide to North Dakota: Upland Birds and Waterfowl. Wilderness Adventures Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-932098-70-9.
  8. ^ Fish, Fur & Feathers: Fish and Wildlife Conservation in Alberta 1905-2005. Fish and Wildlife Historical Society and Federation of Alberta Naturalists. 2005. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-9696134-7-3.
  9. ^ Jezioro, Frank. "January and Grouse Hunting Go Together". West Virginia Dept of Commerce. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  10. ^ IOC World Bird List 13.1 (Report). doi:10.14344/ioc.ml.13.1. Retrieved 2023-03-18.
  11. ^ "Ruffed Grouse – Life History". Allaboutbirds.org. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  12. ^ "Biology of the Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)".
  13. ^ "Ruffed Grouse Facts, Habitat, Diet, Life Cycle, Baby, Pictures". March 2016.
  14. ^ Johnson, Don L. (1995). Grouse & Woodcock: A Gunner's Guide. Krause Publications. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-87341-346-6.
  15. ^ "Ruffed Grouse". Beauty of Birds. 16 September 2021. Retrieved 24 March 2023.
  16. ^ Michael Furtman, Michael (2004). Ruffed Grouse: Woodland Drummer. Stackpole Books. p. 88. ISBN 9780811731225. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  17. ^ "Grouse Facts". The Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  18. ^ Furtman, Michael (September–October 2010). "Ups and Downs in the Grouse Woods". Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. Archived from the original on 2013-10-17. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  19. ^ "A Firm Stand for the Quaking Aspen". Vault. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  20. ^ "New Hampshire Ruffed Grouse Assessment 2015" (PDF).
  21. ^ "Grouse cycle nearing 10-year peak". PostBulletin.com. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  22. ^ "Ruffed Grouse - Introduction | Birds of North America Online". birdsna.org. doi:10.2173/bow.rufgro.01. S2CID 216329949. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  23. ^ "Ruffed Grouse Facts, Habitat, Diet, Life Cycle, Baby, Pictures". www.animalspot.net. March 2016. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  24. ^ "RGS History 1960's". www.ruffedgrousesociety.org. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  25. ^ a b "Pennsylvania 2016 Grouse and Woodcock Status Report" (PDF). p. 7.
  26. ^ a b "Ruffed Grouse". Wildlife Species. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  27. ^ "Grouse in the Balance" (PDF).
  28. ^ a b "PA Game Commission giving special management attention to ruffed grouse". centredaily. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  29. ^ "Grouse research leaves unanswered questions about Pennsylvania's state bird | Penn State University". Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  30. ^ Stauffer, Glenn E.; Miller, David A.W.; Williams, Lisa M.; Brown, Justin (2017-09-20). "Ruffed grouse population declines after introduction of West Nile virus". The Journal of Wildlife Management. 82 (1): 165–172. doi:10.1002/jwmg.21347. ISSN 0022-541X.
  31. ^ "West Nile Virus PA Game Commission Research Summary" (PDF).
  32. ^ "Susceptibility of Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) to West Nile Virus" (PDF).

Further reading