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Close Encounters with Spruce Grouse

 Spruce Grouse

I came upon a pair of Spruce Grouse on my hike up to Ethan Pond on the AT this past weekend. They are quite distinctive looking with those red eyebrows. There were sitting on a boardwalk, oblivious to my approach, and only moved into the shrubbery by the side of the trail when I got within 3 or 4 feet of them. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

I spent some time taking close-up photos of them. It's rare to come across an animal in the White Mountains that doesn't urgently flee from you, even moose. Eventually I agitated one enough so that it flew about 10 feet up into a tree, but these birds are heavy and have to flap their wings a lot to get any lift at all. Its wings sounded like a Huey helicopter trying to take off.

 Spruce Grouse

Once treed, the grouse raised it's tail feathers in a threat display. Actually, I got as close as two feet away from it before it paid me much mind. It didn't make any sounds though or move much after that. I subsequently learned that the species is nick-named "fool hen" for its lack of fear of humans and that they allow humans to approach within a few feet before flying. That was certainly consistent with my experience.

When I got home, I looked up the Spruce Grouse online. They inhabit much of Canada and the northern United States, mainly in coniferous forests. There are several different varieties, but the ones with red eyebrows are found in northern New England. They are ominvorous, mainly feeding on pine and spruce needles, but they also eat insects and even invertebrates. Unfortunately. the loss of forest habitat, particularly in the Adirondack region, has caused them to be placed on the endangered list.

4 comments

  1. Jerry from Montana

    Nice story! Grouse are one of the strangest things I've encountered hiking. Earlier in the summer me and a friend were hiking into a back country site near Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone. On the way in I spotted a weird bird, similar to the one you have pictured. I pointed it out to my buddy and we think it was a sage grouse.

    And like your situation, the one we saw had no interest in running off. In fact, when my buddy made some bird sounds, the grouse started to FOLLOW us!

  2. Grouse are sometimes called "fool grouse" or "fool hen" because they are so unafraid of humans.

  3. I came across a Ruffed Grouse on the Art Loeb Trail in Western NC. It seemed startled and flew away. That evening, at the shelter, we kept hearing an occasional gradually-accelerating thumping sound that we thought was some distant person trying to start an engine. Later a ranger told us it was the sound of the ruffed grouse. I looked it up on Wikipedia and listened to an MP3 and it sounded exactly the same.

    Great Post.

  4. Nice pics! My only encounter with grouse involved a pair exploding out of some bushes when I was hunting deer as a teenager. Scared the bejeebers out of me…

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