Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

ruffed grouse

Ruffed grouse./WI DNR

General: The ruffed grouse is a popular upland game bird of medium size, with mottled brown, gray, white, and black plumage that helps blend it into its preferred young forest habitat. Grouse feed mainly on plant matter, including leaves, shoots, nuts, and buds; adults and chicks also eat insects, which offer high-protein sustenance particularly needed by the growing and developing young. Grouse frequent abandoned farm fields grown up in shrubs and young trees; areas that were logged in recent years and where briars and small-diameter saplings grow thickly; woods edges; hillsides and ravines with scattered clearings; and fringes of shrub swamps. During the spring breeding season, males attract females by “drumming” their wings while sitting exposed on downed woody debris such as logs and stumps. After mating, ruffed grouse hens build a rudimentary nest on the ground at the base of a tree, in thick brush, or tucked up against a log, rock, or exposed root. After a clearcut timber harvest, dense stands of young forest provide good grouse habitat for 20 years or longer, depending on tree species and region. Females may nest in slightly older and more open forest stands that offer ample protective canopy cover overhead.

Status: Ruffed grouse do not migrate. Populations vary across the species’ range, depending on how much young forest habitat is available to them. In the East and Midwest, 15 states listed the ruffed grouse as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need as of 2015.

How to Help Ruffed Grouse: Ideal ruffed grouse habitat is a matrix of regrowing young forest and shrublands that offers different resources grouse need throughout the year. Timber harvests provide good food and cover, particularly logging conducted in forest stands that have aspen (often called “popple”), quick-growing trees whose buds provide important winter food.
Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

For more detailed information on this animal, including references to scientific papers, download Under Cover: Wildlife of Shrublands and Young Forest. This publication can also be purchased from the Wildlife Management Institute.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within this species' range to increase your chances of seeing ruffed grouse and other wildlife that use young forest.