A Dusky Grouse Encounter

I love the gentle surprises the forest offers me when I’m paying attention. Even better when it’s one of my dogs that alerts me to the surprise.

When I see something new, unusual, and/or intriguing, I take photos or record video/audio if I can, and back home, start researching to learn more.

A couple days ago, the forest’s surprise came in the form of two large birds on a decommissioned forest logging road my dogs and I were running on.

We were finishing our run, just a tenth of a mile from my car, parked below a gate that keeps motor vehicles off these old roads. It’s why I like running here.

Conall was ahead of me and Finn behind me, a fairly typical configuration for late in a run as Finn ages and tires more easily. We all move more slowly now so Finn can continue to enjoy time in the forest.

First, I watched as Conall startled a large, brown bird that ran (rather than flew) up a slope covered in sunflowers to get away from us.

Dusky Grouse female. Photo: National Park Service.

Then I realized that Conall saw another large bird up ahead. This one chose to move more slowly and purposefully, staying on the road, fanning tail feathers much like a wild turkey (but smaller), seemingly leading Conall away from the other bird.

Conall following the male bird, tail feathers fanned.

Having seen the first bird and now this one, obviously a male, and noting their size, I realized they were likely grouse.

The male led Conall on a slow chase along the road until Conall – who is curious but (other than voles) doesn’t try to kill wildlife – got a bit too close and the grouse flew up onto a nearby tree limb (feature photo).

I was grateful Finn had been distracted by some scent behind me when this scene started playing out, because Finn does like to flush big birds – turkeys, grouse – making them fly far away to avoid his full-court press.

In all the years I’ve been running and walking in this part of the forest, it wasn’t until two summers ago that I was startled by the odd and fascinating sound of low-pitched drumming coming through the trees. Conall alerted me to it. Puzzled, the boys and I cautiously walked along an old logging road toward the sound. I then saw the source: a ruffed grouse standing on a tree stump, fanning his wings. I wrote a blog post about it here. I learned that the drumming sound comes from the male’s wing feathers beating against the air, even though it sounds like something coming from deep within his throat.

This bird Conall was pursuing, however, was behaving differently. No standing on a stump. Despite expecting it to fly away as I approached the limb in had retreated to, I started recording video as I moved closer.

To my surprise, instead of flying away, this bird started strutting his stuff along the tree limb! Quite the show!

Those yellow eyebrows!

Back home, here’s what my laywoman’s research revealed: I had videoed a Dusky Grouse male, a chicken-like bird found in wooded habitats.

During the breeding season, Dusky Grouse are usually found in or near mountain forests, especially those dominated by firs, Ponderosa pine, quaking aspen, and Douglas fir. …If a female approaches a male’s spring territory, and especially if she vocalizes, males begin courtship displays, involving hooting calls, strutting, exposing the purplish red skin of the neck sac, fanning the tail feathers, bobbing and drawing in the head, and drooping the wings. Males have no role in nest building or rearing of young.

All About Birds

I don’t recall making any sounds resembling those of a female Dusky Grouse, but based on this male’s behavior captured in my video, he was apparently still feeling a bit randy, or maybe confused, strutting his stuff to both Conall and me from his tree branch even though the real target of his display had hightailed it off the trail.

I could hear the deep, rhythmic humming sound this male made as he puffed out his neck feathers, but sadly it doesn’t come through on the video. If you’re curious, you can hear exactly what I heard by visiting this page on All About Birds and playing the “song” audio clip.

I’ve read that during mating season, male grouse – both ruffed and dusky – are not shy toward humans, making their display easy to observe. In my experience, that’s true. And it’s definitely worth seeing if you can.

The forest, and nature, never disappoint. So much to see and learn!

18 thoughts on “A Dusky Grouse Encounter”

  1. That grouse showed Conall! High over his head, fabulous feather display, and a tidy little poop. 🙂
    I’ve never seen a grouse so close–thanks for the video.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, that is an enormous bird! I wish I could observe big ones, too, but so far, our yard birds are small. There is one bird of prey patrolling the beach but I am not sure what kind it is. Also, I love the point you made on the beautiful things we notice when we are present and in the moment.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve only recently become interested in birds, so having these big boys (grouse, turkey) to observe nearby is fun. They’re easy to identify, based on their size. The real challenge is the small songbirds, often migratory, who move so quickly it’s hard to get a good view, making identification difficult!

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    1. New bird to me, as well! A fun discovery, and reading about them (and other grouse), I learned they’re quite oblivious to potential danger during mating season, quite open with their mating displays, explaining why this one was so willing to put on his display behavior with me and the dogs watching from just feet away! I wonder what the hen was thinking, watching from the hillside above…?!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Seeing nature up close and personal like that puts everything in perspective. Like, it’s important to note we share this place . . it ain’t ours all to its lonesome. Peeps out this way happen to believe that’s the case, and it’s sad. Not to mention destructive.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That bird looks like it would be delicious, roasted with a nice gravy and some root veggies and some dressing…I must be hungry! What wine goes with grouse? Never mind. Rebecca, you have such good companions to go on walks with! Mona

    Liked by 1 person

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