Ruffed Grouse in winter
Bonasa umbellus

Some photographs of Ruffed Grouse signs in the Petawawa Research Forest

2004 January 28

Over the last couple of days, Toronto and the rest of Southern Ontario has been walloped by a major snow storm. That's fine. Here in the upper Ottawa Valley we got enough to refresh the bush trails, but not so much that snow clearing had to take precedence over snow shoeing.

Today's trek in the Petawawa Research Forest was pleasant but uneventful. But I did flush a ruffed grouse, Bonasa umbellus.

snow covered forest interior

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Is a ruffed grouse hiding here?

In winter the ruffed grouse seeks shelter by burrowing into the snow; indeed, I suspect that in many cases, they just hunker down and allow themselves to be buried. Under the snow they are sheltered from the elements and relatively safe (although the odd one falls prey to a marauding fox). If they detect danger, they literally explode from the snow and are quickly away. A flushed ruffed grouse startles in any season, but in winter they burst forth from literally underfoot. Either they can't hear you until you are right on top of them or, more likely, they don't want to flush unless absolutely necessary.

resting place of a ruffed grouse just after its departure

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Resting place of a ruffed grouse just after its departure. The imprint of the wings in the snow is clearly visible. Often, these resting places can be identified by the pile of "partridge poop" (which looks like a type of sesame seed snacks) at the bottom of the hole.

Ruffed grouse have big feathery feet — natural snow shoes. But while they are well adapted to the snow, their "shoes" often lack sufficient flotation. But since they much prefer to walk than to fly, they'll just wallow their way along; sometimes almost literally tunneling

snow covered forest interior

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no partridge here!

Sorry, no picture of the ruffed grouse itself. It burst forth and was gone before I realized what was happening. Then I had to wait for my heart rate to return to normal before I could take a picture of where it had been. The other two pictures were taken within a few hundred meters of where the grouse was hiding.