Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ruffed Grouse

Nature Watch

By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum

While walking in the woods this week it happened again. I was meandering along and enjoying the shades of brown and green colors that greet us in the forest this time of year. Suddenly, I was startled and almost jumped out of my skin when a ruffed grouse flushed out of the brush nearby. I enjoy these birds for their beauty, in spite of the scare they often give me. They are difficult to see as they camouflage themselves so perfectly into their surroundings. As they flush out away from me, the sound of their wings beating loudly as they swiftly fly away matches the speed of my startled, crazy heartbeat.

Some fourth graders I know are currently reading the book Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, which features a ruffed grouse. In the story, Brian Robeson has managed to survive a plane crash in northern Canada, and is surviving this northwoods wilderness with his wits and a hatchet. Brian names the ruffed grouse “foolbirds.” I have to disagree with Brian’s “name,” as ruffed grouse seem to me anything but foolish. The way grouse find food anytime during the year seems very intelligent to me.

In autumn, there is plenty of food available to a ruffed grouse. There are many different fungi, or mushrooms, to choose from, as long as the birds can find them before the red squirrels. Acorns have fallen from trees, and grouse benefit from white-tailed deer who have stomped on the acorns and broken them open to be found and consumed by the birds. The late-ripening berries are for the taking, and its not just the shrubs and other plants we typically think of that have available fruits, but also low growing plants such as rose hips, bunchberry and wild lily of the valley.

In later fall, the ruffed grouse adapts to new food sources as the bird moves from the ground to the trees. Grouse consume the buds of many different trees such as aspen, birch, and chokecherry. It is believed that with the change to higher fiber-filled tree parts, grouse depend more on micro-organisms in their digestive system to aid them in getting nutrients out of their food.

We are fortunate to be able to enjoy the beauty of ruffed grouse in the northwoods. On second thought, perhaps “foolbird” is an appropriate name, because they sure do fool me with their excellent camouflage and ability to hide. Be sure to get outdoors this fall to enjoy looking for grouse in your own back yard.

For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Post your own stories on the Nature Watch blog at

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