Common Names Ruff, wood grouse, drummer, partridge, patrige, willow partridge, pat.
ruffed grouse is easily distinguished from other woodland game birds by
its long, rounded tail with a distinct black band near the end. The bird
gets its name from the conspicuous patches of black feathers, or ruffs,
on the neck.
The birds have two distinct color phases, both of which may occur in the same family. The red phase predominates in the southern part of the range; the gray phase, in the northern part and at high altitudes. Red-phase birds have a mottled, brownish body and chestnut-colored tail. Gray-phase birds have a mottled, grayish body and gray tail.
Males are identified by the unbroken black tail band. In females, this band is less distinct on the central two feathers (below). On both sexes, the legs are feathered down to the base of the toes. Juveniles resemble adults by fall, although they are slightly smaller.
Size Adults measure 17 to 20 inches long and weigh 1 to 1 1/2 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females.
Habitat Found throughout most of Canada and Alaska, ruffed grouse also are present in much of the northern continental United States and throughout the Appalachians as far south as Georgia. Their favorite habitat is mixed-age woodlands with a combination of aspen, alder, birch, dogwood, hazel, beech and hornbeam, along with a few conifers. In the southern part of the range, the birds are found in woodlands with evergreen shrubs, such as holly, mountain laurel and rhododendron.
Movement These birds spend their lives in a very small area, usually no more than 40 acres. In early fall, however, young birds dispersing from their family groups may move up to 10 miles, an activity sometimes called the fall shuffle.
Food Habits Ruffed grouse feed on the fruits, buds and catkins of a wide variety of trees and shrubs. Populations are highest in areas with plenty of aspens preferably older male trees, since these offer the most nutritious buds.
Breeding Males establish territories in early spring, when the snow begins to melt. To attract a mate, the male finds a perch atop an old log and begins drumming, making a series of wing beats that begins slowly and gradually accelerates. The noise resembles that of a one-cylinder engine starting up.
After breeding, the hen nests in a wooded area where there is a dense canopy to protect against hawks and owls and an open under story to let her spot approaching predators. She lays 8 to 14 buff-colored eggs in a shallow depression, usually against the base of a tree or in a clump of brush. The eggs hatch in about 24 days, and the chicks remain with the hen for 3 to 4 months before dispersing in the fall.
Social Interaction Although ruffed grouse do not form coveys, small groups may congregate around a plentiful food source. In the winter, birds often group together to snow roost diving into fluffy snow to keep warm and evade predators. Ruffed grouse are not particularly vocal, but females may squeal to warn chicks of danger, and both sexes may hiss to defend their territory.
Population Cyclical. In much of their range, ruffed grouse undergo 10-year population cycles. Numbers in good years may be 15 times higher than in poor years.
Hunting Strategies Because they tend to hold tight rather than flush when threatened, ruffed grouse are a favorite among pointing dog enthusiasts. A hunter without a dog can sometimes frighten a bird into flushing if he pauses for a few seconds near likely cover.
Eating Quality Excellent; the breast meat is among the whitest of all game birds.