All about the ruffed grouse


  • <p>JAMES HIRTLE PHOTO</p><p>This photo of a ruffed grouse was taken recently.</p>

On April 23, I set out with Andy Tanas to scout a route that is part of the Caledonia Christmas Bird Count. This route is in West Caledonia and consists of one long road through the roads.

It has some great habitat and I plan to return there later on when the warblers and flycatchers and a lot of other birds arrive back. We saw more than I anticipated for this early in the season. We saw and heard black-capped chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, a golden-crowned kinglet, purple finches, American robins, a hermit thrush, a northern flicker, a pileated woodpecker, three yellow-bellied sapsuckers travelling together, a palm warbler, brown creepers, a belted kingfisher and ruffed grouse.

This was over a five-kilometre stretch and unfortunately, we did not have time to do the whole route. A cooperative ruffed grouse stayed in place for some photos. It is not often that one gets an opportunity to photograph this species without it flying off. I took my photos out through the car window on the driver's side, using the car as a blind.

The ruffed grouse lives as a resident in Alaska, the Yukon, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. They also live in many states and it is the state bird of Pennsylvania.

Sexes are outwardly similar. They are 37.5 to 47.5 cm long with a wingspread of 55 to 62.5 cm. The ruffed grouse has a finely barred, rather long fan-like tail with a broad black bar near the tip. There are two colour phases, one reddish and the other gray. The adult male is usually larger and heavier than the female. Both sexes have ruff feathers, which form a triangular patch on each side of the neck. In the breeding season, the male has a bright orange-coloured comb over the eyes.

The newly hatched chicks eat cutworms, grasshoppers, beetles, ants, wasps, spiders and caterpillars. The adults in summer like to wander in fields and meadows and near woods for insects. This is 30 per cent of their summer diet. They also eat all kinds of wild berries, apples, plums, wild grapes, and nuts and also seeds of hemlocks, maple trees, tick trefoil, beggar's-ticks and many other weed seeds, as well as blossoms and buds or leaves of popular, birch, willow, apple, pear, peach, alder, spruce, spicebush and many other small herbaceous plants. They also have been known to eat garter snakes, red-bellied snakes, frogs and toads.

Brad Armstrong of Chester reports nesting white-breasted nuthatches. The pair are scraping their beaks back and forth on the nest box and on the tree. It is the second report that I've had of this activity, so I did some further investigation.

This strange behaviour is called bill sweeping. It might be a territorial defence mechanism. Both birds engage in prolonged sweeping of the bill in a wide arc in or outside the cavity. Generally, there is an insect held in the bill.

The theory is that crushed insects may repel squirrels searching for available cavities. It is considered unlikely that it is courtship behaviour. Brad also noted that, when another bird or a squirrel would approach the nest box, the one nuthatch would spread out its wings and rock back and forth. Brad believes that the nuthatch is making itself look bigger and scarier to the visitor. He also sighted a turkey vulture on April 26 off the 103 just past Hubbards.

I saw my first two willets (eastern) for the year on April 24 at Crescent Beach. My first palm warblers for the year were at Pleasant River and West Caledonia. Chris Gill saw a yellow-rumped warbler in Mahone Bay on April 22. Steven Morris reported that palm and yellow-rumped warblers were back at Second Peninsula on April 23.

Terry Durnavich saw a pair of northern flickers courting at Green Bay on April 16. There was lots of head bobbing and tail plumage showing. The last sighting of the brown thrasher that was in Garden Lots was on April 18. Eric Mills had a brown thrasher arrive in his yard at Lower Rose Bay on April 21. On April 23, Eric sighted two greater yellow-legs at the Back Oler Farm Marsh in Garden Lots and Kevin Lantz found an American golden plover there on April 25.

Doreen Gillespie of Chester reported a male northern cardinal, four ring-necked pheasants, two pileated woodpeckers, purple finches and American goldfinches along with a number of other bird species. A Louisiana waterthrush was located in East River. An early sighting in West Brookfield on April 23 was a ruby-throated hummingbird. I was pleased to see 42 tree swallows over Waterman's Lake in Pleasant River on that day. There was a lone barn swallow present.

I ran my third owl monitoring route on April 22 which runs from Middlewood through to Vogler's Cove. Brian and Janice Kenefick and Adam Hennessy joined me. The winds were a little stronger than I would have liked making hearing at times difficult, but we still found 13 barred owls. This is the first year that I've run all three routes without a northern saw-whet owl. On the bright side, I had 44 owls total over the three routes.

A Pacific golden plover was found by David Currie at Hartlen Point on April 23. Steven Morris located two American oystercatchers at the tip of the Blanche Peninsula. Mark Dennis reported two back at Cape Sable Island. Other rarer species found across the province since the last column were upland sandpiper, Pacific loon, red-bellied woodpecker, field sparrow, chipping sparrow, indigo bunting, short-billed dowitcher, a greater white-fronted goose and sandhill crane.

On April 22 a black-necked stilt was found at Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, which was the first recorded sighting for this species at this location.

You may reach me at (902) 693-2174 or email jrhbirder@hotmail.com">jrhbirder@hotmail.com.

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