A surprise backyard visitor on Thursday, June 27, helped me add a new bird to my year list. A Ruffed Grouse, which perched atop the pole that once housed a platform bird feeder, surveyed its surroundings briefly before returning to the nearby woods.
The bird has made more appearances since that first one, and on one occasion it came back with company. Based on their behavior on that occasion, I think the two birds represented a mated pair of Ruffed Grouse.
So, Ruffed Grouse became Bird No. 168 for 2013. Additions to my list have slowed to a crawl as summer has advanced.
The Ruffed Grouse is named for the male’s neck ruff. These feathers around the neck can be erected in mating displays, creating an impressive “collar.”
Males do not vocalize during mating displays, which sets them apart from other species of grouse. Instead, they beat their wings at high speeds to create a thumping sound known as “drumming.” The low-frequency sound carries a good distance even in thick woodlands.
The Ruffed Grouse has been officially recognized as the state bird of Pennsylvania. Legislation enacting the recognition was passed by the General Assembly on June 22, 1931. In the recognition, the Ruffed Grouse is described as a plump bird with mottled reddish-brown feathers. This protective coloring makes it possible for the grouse to conceal itself in the wilds.
As a game bird, the Ruffed Grouse has been studied more extensively than some other birds. This bird is not known for longevity. Few survive to three years of age, according to research conducted by the late Gordon Gullion, head of the Forest Wildlife Project at the University of Minnesota’s Cloquet Forestry Center.
Guillion showed in his research that of 1,000 eggs laid in spring, only about 250 Ruffed Grouse will survive to their first autumn, 120 to their first spring, about 50 to a second spring and less than 20 will still be alive the third spring.
Studies have also revealed that Ruffed Grouse populations undergo a cycle of peaks and crashes.
This population cycle of peaks and valleys repeats about every 10 years. What this means is that Ruffed Grouse numbers decline to a low point every decade, but there is also a corresponding peak when the local population of Ruffed Grouse surges.
Other related grouse in North America include the Greater Prairie Chicken, or Pinnated Grouse, as well as the Lesser Prairie Chicken, Spruce Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse.
Despite some superficial similarities, grouse are not closely related to quails and turkeys.
I received a phone call from Ann Graf this past week. Ann, who is 92, and her husband, Robert, have maintained a summer home in Roan Mountain for the past 34 years. The long drive, however, from Florida to Tennessee is getting to be a bit much, so they are giving up their home in Roan Mountain.
Ann is proud to be leaving her beloved Roan Mountain a little better than when she arrived.
She said that when she first came to Roan Mountain, she could not find any Eastern Bluebirds.
She has done her part over the years to help out the local bluebirds by offering nest boxes for the birds. She was rewarded by watching several pairs of bluebirds successfully rear young in the boxes.
House Wrens represented her biggest challenge to transforming her property into a haven for bluebirds. The wrens kept aggressively invading the homes she provided for the bluebirds.
For the past couple of years, however, the wrens have been absent, allowing the bluebirds to nest in peace.
While her Roan Mountain bluebirds will definitely miss her, Ann will still enjoy plenty of the best nature has to offer in Florida near her home in Venice.
“We have ospreys and some different hawks,” she said.
She is also able to view large nesting rookeries populated by some of the Sunshine State’s large wading birds.
“We’ve also got sea turtles that lay their eggs in nests on the beach,” Ann commented.
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