Blue Grouse: A Gift

by Dave Hanks

The Blue Grouse is a gentle and quiet bird of our western high mountains. The male’s deep booming call is subtle and hard to locate. This is a large chicken-like bird that is sooty gray, with a light band on the tip of a black tail, and a reddish/yellow eyebrow. When the male “booms”, you can then see a red air sac surrounded by a white ruff.

I have tried and tried to get a good photo of this bird, but he is hard to find. Finally, luck smiled on me! We were in the northeast mountains of Yellowstone Park. We saw some people parked on the top of a hill. Thinking that they might have spotted a bear or some wolves, we stopped. They were foreigners (German, I think). A man pointed to the ground a few feet down the slope, smiled, and said: “Puffed-up chicken”. There was my grouse! It was in front of a big log and in the shade. I took several shots, moved to have the sun behind me and took several more. I thought I had some good ones, but then I received a real GIFT. The bird went around the end of the log and jumped on top of it. He posed, displayed, and “boomed”. I was ecstatic! The last shots were so much better, that I erased all previous ones It’s rare that an animal cooperates so ideally – an A+ for him.

During the nesting season, the male will often perch on a log to give his call. The comb over his eyes will stand up; he will fan his tail, and fluff out his neck to display his air sacs. The female will lay 5 to 10 eggs in a scrape lined with pine needles and grass. She does the egg incubating, which takes 25 days to hatch, and then cares for the chicks – which are precocial. The Blue Grouse eats seeds, berries, and insects. In the winter they will eat conifer needles. The few times I have seen this species, has been in krumholtz zones (wind stunted trees that abut alpine meadows).

A Blue Grouse Displaying his white ruff: Red air sac underneath

Displaying his white ruff: Red air sac underneath