Meet: Ruffed Grouse
This lovely little woodland game bird has recently turned up at our feeders. The Ruffed Grouse is a common Eastern US game bird hunted with upland game dogs. Chances are, if you've walked through an Aspen grove or low cedar or spruce swamp, you've been startled by their explosive takeoff from seemingly under your feet.
Many hunters call them Partridge or sometimes Pats as in "My dog flushed a Pat our from under a dogwood shrub this afternoon).
They aren't partridges though - they are Grouse. These birds are expertly camouflaged and prefer to hunker down and hope predators (and humans) will pass them by instead of expending the energy to fly away. Grouse aren't the best at flying either. If flushed out by a predator or your hiking boots, they will explode from the underbrush in a loud whirring of wings. This is meant to confuse and alarm a predator and give them an opportunity to escape. Then they fly low, often through the trees just above 6 feet or so and settle back into the underbrush not too far away.
Ruffed Grouse are omnivores and will eat anything. Insects, small amphibians, rodents, seeds, nuts, corn, green plants, they aren't picky. They are often found in low lying areas with a lot of brush as they hide in the thickets and under spruce boughs. In the winter, they will even burrow into the snow to stay close to the ground and out of sight of predators.
The most unique thing about Ruffed Grouse is their courtship display. In the spring, you may hear what sounds like a tractor engine slowly cranking over and then catching and running. This is a Ruffed Grouses courtship display. The sound is created with the bird's wings beat hard and in rapid succession. They often stand on logs or stones and some folks think that they are beating on the logs or stones but the birds simply use large flat surfaces as an area to display. As March is on it's way - it's not to early to start listening for Ruffed Grouse in the forest.