Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Bonasa umbellus
Population size
18 mln
Life Span
1-7 yrs
80 km/h
450-750 g
40-50 cm
50-64 cm

Ruffed grouse are widespread medium-sized birds of North America. They have two distinct morphs: grey and brown. In the grey morph, the head, neck, and back are grey-brown; the breast is light with barring. There is much white on the underside and flanks, and overall the birds have a variegated appearance; the throat is often distinctly lighter. The tail is essentially the same brownish grey, with regular barring and a broad black band near the end ("subterminal"). Brown-morph birds have tails of the same color and pattern, but the rest of the plumage is much more brown, giving the appearance of a more uniform bird with less light plumage below and a conspicuously grey tail. Both males and females have the ruffs on the sides of the neck. They also have a crest on top of their head, which sometimes lies flat.


Ruffed grouse are found in Canada and the United States occurring from the Appalachian Mountains across Canada to Alaska. They inhabit the boreal forest, deciduous and mixed forests rich in aspen and brushy areas.

Ruffed Grouse habitat map


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Ruffed grouse are non-migratory and spend most of their time quietly on the ground. When surprised, they may explode into flight, beating their wings very loudly. In the winter, they will burrow into the snow for warmth, and may suddenly burst out of the snow when approached too closely. When alarmed a female with chicks will make a clucking or whining sound. These birds also communicate with each other using hissing, chirping and peeping sounds. Ruffed grouse are generally solitary but may gather in small groups at good feeding spots. They are generally active during the day and can be frequently seen foraging along road beds during early morning and late afternoon.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Ruffed grouse are omnivores; they eat buds, leaves, fruits, berries, seeds, shrubs, woody plants, and insects.

Mating Habits

late-May - early June
23-24 days
10-12 days
9-14 eggs

Ruffed grouse are polygynous; they don't form pairs and males may mate with several females during the breeding season. Ruffed grouse differ from other grouse species in their courtship display. They rely entirely on a non-vocal acoustic display, known as drumming. The drumming itself is a rapid, wing-beating display that creates a low frequency sound, starting slow and speeding up (thump ... thump ... thump..thump-thump-thump-thump). Males perform drumming on a raised platform such as a fallen log, puffing out their feathers, fanning their tails, and showing their ruffs. The female builds a bowl-shaped nest of leaves on the forest floor, often at the base of a tree or a large log. She lays 9-14 whitish eggs usually in late-May-early June. The incubation period lasts around 23-24 days. Chicks are precocial; they are hatched with eyes open and are covered in sandy to brown down. They are able to walk themselves shortly after hatching and follow their mother to feeding sites where the chicks feed themselves. The young fledge at 10-12 days after hatching and become reproductively mature at one year old.


Population threats

Ruffed grouse don't face major threats at present, although their populations are declining due to habitat loss. These birds are also frequently hunted for sport.

Population number

According to the All About Birds resource, the breeding population of the Ruffed grouse is around 18 million birds. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, but its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Ruffed grouse is the state bird of Pennsylvania, United States.
  • Common nicknames for Ruffed grouse include drummer or thunder-chicken.
  • Ruffed grouse are named for the "ruff" of feathers around the neck in males; they display these feathers during the mating season in order to attract females.
  • Ruffed grouse are known for their interesting 'drumming" courtship display. Even in thick woods, their drumming can be heard for 25 miles (40 km) or more!
  • Ruffed grouse use sandy road beds to dust their feathers to rid themselves of skin pests. These dusting sites are visible as areas of disturbed soils with some signs of feathers. Birds often return to these spots during the late afternoon to bathe in dust and to socialize.
  • During cold winter months, Ruffed grouse often burrow themselves into the snow, behavior known as snow-roosting. This helps the birds to be less visible to predators and protects them from wind and from cold. Before leaving their snow caves, grouse will first stick their head out, look around and then erupt into the air.


1. Ruffed Grouse on Wikipedia -
2. Ruffed Grouse on The IUCN Red List site -

More Fascinating Animals to Learn About