By Doug Collicutt
One of the best know wilderness sounds in Manitoba is the drumming of a male ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus ). In the spring males sit up on a log or stump and beat their wings against their breasts declaring their sovereignty over a patch of forest and attracting female grouse to come and mate. The drumming sound is created by the implosion of air into a vacuum created next to the breast by the rapidly beating wings.
In Manitoba, ruffed grouse can be found just about everywhere there is deciduous forest. Even small bluffs of aspens in the open prairies or agricultural zones will usually harbour their own grouse or two. These hardy birds stay put on their own territories all year long, "toughing out" our fierce winters. And they are probably our most sought-after upland game bird. Hunters out after "partridges" or "prairie chickens" are most often stalking ruffed grouse, though one of our other grouse species, the sharp-tailed grouse (Pedioecetes phasianellus ), is also referred to as "prairie chicken". The name prairie chicken really belongs to two other species of grouse, one of which, the greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido ), used to be common in southern Manitoba, but which is now extremely rare or may be extirpated (no longer exists here). We do have a proper "partridge" here, too, the gray partridge (Perdix perdix ), but this is an introduced species, native to western Eurasia.
Though normally a shy and secretive bird -- understandable considering how many things are trying to eat them! -- ruffed grouse can become quite tame around people, especially if there is a meal to be had. At my cottage in Whiteshell Provincial Park, my neighbours, who live in the park year-round, have "tamed" one grouse. They call him "Ruffie" . He, and we know it is a male because he sits at the top of the driveway and "drums", will come around looking for hand-outs. If nothing is forthcoming he can be quite demanding, and will perch on our window sill staring at us until something is put out! Ruffie's been hanging around for a couple of years now, managing to elude the foxes, martens and fishers that also wander past our cottage. This tough little bird has earned my respect and taught me a lot about his kind.
Carry on for more about the Roughed Grouse.