Dusky GrouseDendragapus obscurus

adult male, displaying
Tom J. Ulrich/VIREO
adult female
J.D. Phillips/VIREO
adult male
Robert A.

Description

A large, dark forest grouse of inland regions of the western U.S. and Canada. Until recently, this and the Sooty Grouse were considered to make up one species under the name Blue Grouse. Slow-moving and inconspicuous, but often surprisingly tame. Most likely to be noticed (at least by sound) in spring, when males "sing" incessantly to attract mates, a series of deep hoots.

Habitat

Deciduous and mixed forests in mountains in summer; conifer forests at higher elevations in winter. Prime summer habitat is where forest meets open country, such as sagebrush flats. In winter, these birds favor dense forests of conifers.

Feeding Diet

Conifer needles, leaves, insects. Diet in summer is mostly leaves, flowers, buds, berries, and conifer needles; also many insects. Very young birds may eat more insects than adults. In winter feeds mostly on needles of conifers, including pines, hemlocks, firs, douglas-firs.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on ground in summer, mostly in trees in winter, especially in areas with heavy snow cover.

Nesting

In breeding season, male gives deep song punctuated with short flights, wings fluttering loudly. In peak display, male struts on the ground with tail raised and fanned, neck feathers spread to reveal patches of bright skin. Female mates with male, then departs. Nest site is on ground, under cover such as shrub, log, rock ledge. Nest a shallow scrape, lined with dead twigs, needles, leaves, a few feathers. Eggs: 5-10, sometimes 2-12. Pale buff, usually speckled with brown. Incubation is by female only, 25-28 days. Young: Usually leave nest within a day after hatching, and follow female; young find all their own food. Female often fearless in defense of eggs or young, standing her ground when approached closely. Young can make short flights at age of 8-9 days, are full-grown at about 13 weeks.

Eggs

5-10, sometimes 2-12. Pale buff, usually speckled with brown. Incubation is by female only, 25-28 days. Young: Usually leave nest within a day after hatching, and follow female; young find all their own food. Female often fearless in defense of eggs or young, standing her ground when approached closely. Young can make short flights at age of 8-9 days, are full-grown at about 13 weeks.

Young

Usually leave nest within a day after hatching, and follow female; young find all their own food. Female often fearless in defense of eggs or young, standing her ground when approached closely. Young can make short flights at age of 8-9 days, are full-grown at about 13 weeks.

Conservation

Still fairly common. Affected by forest management. May increase after clearcuts, but then declines as these grow up; does very poorly in even-aged tree farms as compared to original old-growth forest.

Range

Most birds move in autumn from fairly open breeding areas to dense coniferous forest. In most parts of range, this involves moving uphill to spend the winter, an unusual kind of altitudinal migration. Maximum known travel is about 30 miles, but most go shorter distances. Birds may migrate entirely by walking or may intersperse short flights.

Similar Species

adult male, displaying

Sooty Grouse

A large, dark grouse of western coastal forests, also living in mountain forest in the Sierras of California. Until recently, this and the Dusky Grouse were combined as one species, under the name Blue Grouse. Slow-moving and inconspicuous, but often surprisingly tame. Most likely to be noticed (at least by sound) in spring, when males "sing" a series of deep hoots, often from more than 100 feet up in a dense evergreen tree.

adult male

Spruce Grouse

Common in the north woods but very easy to overlook, the Spruce Grouse eludes many birders who seek it. Absurdly tame, it may sit motionless while observers pass by just a few feet away, and it may thus go unnoticed. Spruce Grouse are usually solitary in summer, but in winter they may gather in loose flocks. They readily perch in trees, and do most of their feeding there in winter.

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