Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Common Name: Ruffed Grouse
Also referred to as: Birch Partridge, Drumming Grouse, Willow Grouse, Pine Hen, Tippet, Wood Grouse
Genus species: Bonasa umbellus
Recognized subspecies: B. u. umbellus; B. u. monticola;  B. u. sabin;, B. u. castanet;, B. u. brunnescens; B. u. togata; B. u. affinis; B. u. phaia; B. u. incana; B. u. yukonensis; and B. u. umbelloides

Order: Galliformes

General Description:

  • Total length: Adult male, 430-500 mm; adult female, 400-470 mm.
  • Wing Chord: Adult male, 171-93 mm; adult female, 165-90 mm.
  • Tail: Adult male, 130-81 mm; adult female, 119-59 mm.
  • Weight: Male, 500-750 g; female, 450-600 g.
  • Body shape of the Ruffed Grouse is ovate, with broad, medium length wings and a rounded tail extensively barred with a prominent subterminal dark band. Both sexes exhibit a short erectile crest on head.
  • Males have a small, sometimes inconspicuous comb above the eye which is orange to reddish-orange in colour; becomes more prominent in the spring.
  • Plumage has two predominate colour morphs, red and grey, which are articulated in much of the dorsal body plumage and the dorsal surface of the tail; the grey colour phase is most common in Alberta.
  • Many shades exist between the two colour morphs with plumage of upperparts being vermiculated, mottled, and spotted with black, buff, and dusky brown.
  • On each side of the neck is a tuft of long feathers that are often partially hidden but can be erected into a ruff; these feathers are usually glossy black with a slight bluish sheen.
  • Feathered to the base of the toes.



North American Distribution:

  • In Canada, B. umbellus is found in the central Yukon and the southern region of the Northwest Territories, and throughout the provinces from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Provinces.
  • Within the United States, the Ruffed Grouse is found in central Alaska, and is scattered as well throughout the northern and coastal states.
  • In Alberta, the B. u. umbelloides is found mainly in the southern Boreal Forest, Foothills, and Parkland Natural Regions, with a more prevalent distribution within the northern regions; introductions have also been made to the Cypress Hills region.

Habitat Description:

  • Optimal year-round habitat for B. umbellus includes a mixture of small clearings (less than 0.4 ha) with mixed-age forests.
  • Ruffed Grouse are often closely associated with aspen (Populus spp.) and mixed deciduous-coniferous forest in early stages of succession; alder (Alnus spp.) and willow (Salix spp.) may be utilized where aspen is absent.
  • Ruffed Grouse may inhabit wooded coulees and woodlots as well.
  • In winter, they often utilize areas with a combination of mature aspen stands for food and adjacent stands of saplings for cover. When available, they will use snow roosts, dense hardwood saplings, and young oaks that retain their leaves, or conifer growth will provide sufficient thermal cover.

Movements and Migratory Habits:

  • The Ruffed Grouse is the most solitary of all the grouse; small family groups break apart during the fall.
  • The cruising radius of Ruffed Grouse broods is often no more than 400 meters; they become more sedentary as they mature.
  • Adult males rarely move more than 400 meters; adult females sometimes move more than 1600 meters.
  • They are most active during dawn and dusk.
  • Ruffed Grouse do not perform any movements that are considered migratory, although they do show some seasonal shifts in mobility.
  • During winter, movements decline and the Ruffed Grouse becomes nearly sedentary by spring.
  • Home range sizes vary from 12 to 100 ha.

Diet and Foraging Strategy:

  • A variety of plant food is utilized by the Ruffed Grouse, with seasonal availability and regional variations in diet occurring.
  • Summer foods may include: soft fruits, berries, and leaves of herbaceous plants.
  • Insects are consumed in large quantities by chicks during their first few weeks of life and adults will consume small quantities during the summer.
  • Ruffed Grouse feed on a great variety of berries, herbaceous vegetation, and leaves, buds, and fruits of hardwood trees and shrubs during fall when potential food items are most abundant.
  • Tree twigs and buds, particularly of aspens are an important winter food source.
  • The Ruffed Grouse has a high capacity to digest fibrous foods - much of its diet is high in cellulose.


  • Male Ruffed Grouse can begin to exhibit breeding behaviours as early as the first of March.
  • The two basic aspects of male reproductive display include drumming for an acoustic display and strutting for a visual display.
  • Drumming typically consists of the male standing on a log, with his tail braced against the log, his nails firmly grasping the wood, and conducting a series of strong wing strokes; strokes start slowly, approximately one every second, and rapidly speed up. This produces a low frequency sound that attracts females to the drumming site
  • Within Alberta, drumming occurs during April; at which time pair formation is brief before copulation takes place.
  • Females nest on the ground, within small bowl-like depressions cushioned with leaves and grass, usually near a stump or tree base.
  • Preferred nesting habitat is within deciduous forests that are fairly open at ground level.
  • Nest dimensions are approximately 160 mm diameter; 70 mm depth; 13 mm thickness.
  • Clutch size can be 8-14 eggs.
  • Eggs are milky to cinnamon-buff in colour; often plain, but sometimes spotted with reddish or drab spots.
  • Egg size is approximately 39 x 29 mm.
  • Females are the sole incubator of the clutch with the incubation period lasting 24 days.
  • Strong nest and brood defence behaviour is exhibited by females.
  • Females have one brood per season; although they may re-nest if the first nest attempt is not successful.
  • Hatching usually occurs between late May and mid June; if re-nesting has occurred, hatching may be delayed to late June or early July.
  • Chicks hatch synchronously.
  • Chicks are precocial and the brood leaves the nest within one day of hatching.
  • The chicks can fly short distances after approximately ten days.
  • Their downy feathers are replaced with more protective feathers within two weeks.
  • Fledgling may occur at 12-15 weeks of age, most broods have dispersed by mid-September. 

Conservation Status:

  • Federal: Not Listed
  • Provincial: Secure.
  • The Ruffed Grouse is a favourite game bird for hunters. After bursting into the air, it flies fast and takes cover almost immediately. This behaviour makes it a difficult target.
  • Habitat quality and hunting pressure can cause fluctuations in Ruffed Grouse populations.

ReferencesRuffed Grouse photo © 2009 Rich Phalin. Retrieved from on 22/09/09. Used with permission.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD). 2008. Search Species and Status Category. <>. Accessed 16 October 2009.

Cade, B. S., and P.J. Sousa. 1985. Habitat Suitability Index Models: Ruffed Grouse. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Report 82 (10.86), Washington, D.C., USA.

Federation of Alberta Naturalists. 2007. The atlas of breeding birds of Alberta: a second look. Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Godfrey, W. E. 1986. The Birds of Canada. Revised edition. National Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1973. Grouse and Quails of North America. The University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Rusch, D.H., S. Destefano, M.C. Reynolds and D. Lauten. 2000. Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: <> Accessed 18 May 2009.

Salt, W. R. 1966. The Birds of Alberta. Second edition. Government of Alberta, Department of Industry and Development, Edmonton, Alberta.

The World Pheasant Association. 1978. Woodland Grouse 1978. Culloden House, Inverness, Scotland.