How do I recognize it?
Grouse are chicken-like birds with intricate camouflage markings. In silhouette, the Spruce Grouse is distinguished from the much more commonly seen Ruffed Grouse by its shorter, rounded tail and lack of a conspicuous crest. Adult male Spruce Grouse have the following distinctive features: grey back, finely barred with black; an extensive, black upper-breast patch; bold white flecking on the underparts; red “comb” over the eye, and cinnamon-tipped tail. Females and juveniles are mottled with many subtle brown and grey tones.
Above: Female Spruce Grouse at Seven Sisters Falls by Peter Taylor
Does it migrate?
Spruce Grouse are among the most sedentary of all Manitoba birds. However, short-range spring and fall movements (rarely more than 10 km) may lead to them showing up in unexpected places. This female was in the front yard of a home in Seven Sisters Falls.
Above: Female Spruce Grouse in jack pine forest north of Gypsumville by Peter Taylor
Where does it live?
The Spruce Grouse occurs throughout Manitoba’s boreal forest, north to the tree-line (including the Churchill area) and south to the edge of the agricultural zone. It is most often encountered in spruce and pine-dominated forests, and is probably most numerous at mid-latitudes within the boreal forest zone.
Above: Male Spruce Grouse on a roadside snow-bank near Milner Ridge by Peter Taylor
Where can I see it?
Spruce Grouse are inconspicuous because they inhabit dense coniferous forest and are generally quiet. The best chance of seeing one is when it comes to a roadside to ingest grit as a digestive aid. Once one or a group is found, viewing opportunities may be excellent; this species’ unwary nature has earned it the nickname “Fool Hen”. While there are few places that the Spruce Grouse can be located reliably, sightings are quite frequent in and near Riding Mountain National Park and Whiteshell, Nopiming, and Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Parks.
Above: Male Spruce Grouse in display posture near Davidson Lake, MB by Peter Taylor
Unlike some other grouse species, the Spruce Grouse is not prized by hunters because of its reputation for poor flavour, though it is a legitimate game bird in Manitoba. Populations are difficult to monitor, and there is some loss to forest clearing or alteration in southern parts of the range. The species is thus classified as Endangered in New York state and Vermont, and Threatened in Wisconsin, but overall conservation concern is low.
Above: Spruce Grouse chicks ready for take-off near Davidson Lake, MB by Peter Taylor
Did you know:
Unlike most birds, young grouse and their relatives are able to fly short distances while only partly grown. By scattering in all directions on whirring wings, they can confuse and evade predators, then await the “all clear” from their mother.