The Ripple - Spring 2017

Flora & Fauna (Spring 2017)

Spruce Grouse

"Put, put, put, put, put."

We could hear the sound of a motor boat, or maybe a lawn mower off in the distance, trying to kick off and get started. It sounded off, though; like something wasn't quite right with the engine.

When I was growing up, and my family was summering in Nopiming, Spruce Grouse sightings happened with surprising regularity. They showed up on hiking trails, while paddling, and frequently tried to cross the road as we were driving home.

Sometime in my teens, they disappeared; we barely saw them anymore.

While traveling the Boundary Waters and Experimental Lakes this past summer, the Spruce Grouse made an abrupt reappearance in my life.

It would be no surprise, of course, if I had been more familiar with their preferred habitat. The Spruce Grouse thrives in young stands of pine, spruce or fir; i.e. the regrowth forest we came across during our trips and that was present on Flander’s Lake when we first built there (and continued to remain following the forest fires that occurred nearby in our first years there).

Spruce Grouse associate closely with the boreal forest, and the Canadian Shield. In the summer (during your paddling adventures) they can be found galavanting among the low-lying blueberries and other shrubs.

The Spruce Grouse has earned the nickname "the fool's hen." When the grouse perceives a threat, it acts like a kid pretending to be “invisible,” standing perfectly still, hoping that you won’t notice it. If you get close enough, it will spring to flight to get away; surprising, as the grouse is not a flying bird; they are bipedal and more likely to walk or hop along.

In the winter, the Spruce Grouse burrows into the deep snow to keep warm, exploding from its icy cave in a burst of fluttering plumage if a predator approaches.

In the earlier parts of spring and summer, male Spruce Grouse will elicit a soft drumming noise by beating their wings; the "put, put, put" we could hear in the distance. It is a distinct and iconic sound that imagines a lonely, single bird preening itself deep within the dense woods.

male spruce grouse Male spruce grouse, courtesy Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Falcipennis-canadensis-002.jpg

female spruce grouse Female spruce grouse, courtesy Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Falcipennis-canadensis-001.jpg