|Ruffed Grouse near Lake Durant © Dave Spier|
In September and October, we spend a good deal of time camping in the Adirondacks, much of it in the northern portions from St. Lawrence County eastward to the Clintonville Pine Barrens and then south into Essex and Hamilton Counties. On some of the trails we hiked, we flushed one or two Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus), a.k.a. partridge, from the edge. Even though they were hidden (more like invisible), as we approached too close for their comfort, they exploded in a noisy burst of frantic wing beating meant to scare and disorient us (and it works). It's a very effective ploy against predators. In the dense woods, the birds are quickly out of sight even though they only fly relatively short distances. Since grouse do not migrate, they have no need for long-distance flight.
Grouse depend on their brown camouflage to remain invisible. Chances are we hiked past other grouse that held tight because they were further from the trail edge. If we had taken more breaks and stopped along the trails, additional grouse may have flushed from cover as they became nervous about what we're doing. Instinctively, they seem to know that a stopped "predator" may be getting ready to pounce.
Grouse habitat in the Adirondacks can be described as dry woods with a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees and a thick understory of hobblebush or dense ground cover. The trail along the north side of Taylor Pond is a good example. Now that the leaves have mostly fallen, grouse concentrate in thickets. These spots also provide berries important in their fall diet. After the berries are consumed, grouse turn to aspen buds which will get them through the winter months. Aspens are fast-growing, but short-lived, pioneer trees found on sunny edges of young woods and openings in more mature forests. Also known as poplars, they are related to cottonwoods and willows.
Sometimes called the "king of game birds," the Ruffed Grouse is admired by sportsmen (or sports persons, if you prefer). The Ruffed Grouse Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving grouse and woodcock habitat since 1961. You can find out more by visiting their website at http://www.ruffedgrousesociety.org/ and clicking on the various links.
(This is the second article in a loose series around the theme of Ruffed Grouse.)
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org Additional articles not related to the Adirondacks can be found on my other blog at http://northeastnaturalist.blogspot.com/ and more nature photos can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dave_spier and http://picasaweb.google.com/northeastnaturalist