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ruffed grouse

Bonasa umbellus

What do they look like?

The Ruffed Grouse is approximately 18 inches in length. The color is two-toned reddish-brown and spotted on the back, and yellowish with dark bars beneath. The tail has 18 broad feathers, which appear to be half-diamond shaped when spread. The tarsus is partly feathered.

Pearson, 1940.

  • Average mass
    644 g
    22.70 oz
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    2.3894 W

Where do they live?

Ruffed grouse are found throughout Canada and in 38 of the 49 continental United States. In the east they extend as far south as northern Georgia. In the western states ruffed grouse are found along the western slopes of the Cascades into northern California and in the Rocky Mountains into Wyoming and central Utah. In the central United States isolated populations persist in the Dakotas and as far south as Arkansas. Populations have been introduced into Newfoundland and Nevada. (Ruffed Grouse Society, 2003)

What kind of habitat do they need?

The Ruffed Grouse prefers forested areas in rough, cold lands. It also prefers dim and quiet woods, deep thickets, or sheltered swamps. The Ruffed Grouse doesn't like open fields, and will rarely, if never, be found there.


How do they reproduce?

The Ruffed Grouse is a ground nesting bird. The female lays one egg per day, until her clutch is complete. The average clutch is about 11 eggs. The female sits on the eggs, in the nest, until the eggs hatch, after 23 to 26 days. Fledging occurs after 8 to 10 weeks.

Pearson, 1940, USDA Forest Service 2001.

  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    24 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    120 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    120 days

How long do they live?

How do they behave?

The Ruffed Grouse is a very parental bird. The female takes care of the hatchlings until they can roost on their own in trees. These are fairly solitary birds, except during mating season, when they congregate together.

The male grouse has a peculiar habit, that any woodsperson is probably familiar with, although few have actually witnessed it. The male makes a distinct drumming sound. This drumming serves three purposes. First, it is given as a call to females, Second, it is given as a challenge to combat between two males during mating season, Third, it is given as an expression of vigor and vitality, usually at the end of mating season.

Leonard, 1973.

How do they communicate with each other?

What do they eat?

Over one-fourth of the Ruffed Grouse's diet is made up of fruit, such as thorn apples, blueberries, strawberries. It also eats wild and cultivated sunflower seeds, birch, poplar, and willow buds. The Christmas Fern is also a special food for the Ruffed Grouse.

Young Ruffed Grouse Chicks are primarily insectivorous, until they are old enough to care fo r themselves.

Birds of America, 1940.

Do they cause problems?

Some farmers are troubled by these birds, because they are primarily fruit eaters.

Leonard, 1973.

How do they interact with us?

The Ruffed Grouse is hunted for sport, so areas that have very dense populations of the bird benefit from extra tourism during the hunting season

Also, The Ruffed Grouse hatchlings are mainly insectivorous, so the insect populations in some area decrease shortly after the hatching season.

Peterson, 1980.

Are they endangered?

The Ruffed Grouse is hunted for sport, but it is far from being endangered. The only real requirement that the Ruffed Grouse needs is a forested region, so this is another animal that could be affected by extensive deforestation.

Some more information...

I first experienced the Ruffed Grouse when I was about six, and I was wandering about in my uncle's woods. I was startled by the characteristic "drumming" sound. Since then, I have heard the noise several times, in various wooded areas.


Jeff Haupt (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Pearson, T.G. 1940. Birds of America. Third Edition. Garden City Publishing Company, New York.

Leonard, L.R. 1973. The World of the Ruffed Grouse. First Edition. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and New York.

Peterson, Tory, and Roger. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds. Houghton Mifflin Publishing, Boston.

Ruffed Grouse Society, 2003. "Ruffed grouse facts" (On-line). Accessed February 14, 2005 at

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, 2001. "Fire Effects Information System: Bonasa umbellus" (On-line). Accessed 30 May 2001 at

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Haupt, J. 2001. "Bonasa umbellus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 25, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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