The Spruce Grouse is the most common grouse that you’ll find in K-Country. Ruffed Grouse are the most common in the province, generally. The Dusky Grouse, Dendragapus obscurus, is much less common than either of their cousins, but a treat to find all year round. Unlike Spruce or Ruffed, the Dusky grouse is strictly a mountain-dweller.
A different migration
Dusky Grouse are one of the many kinds of birds that migrate laterally. Instead of flying south for the winter, these birds counter-intuititavely migrate UP to treeline for fall and winter, and DOWN to valley bottoms for spring and summer. Their winter food is buds, dried out berries and needles, while their summer food is grasshoppers, bugs and fresh fruits. Young Duskies almost exclusively eat insects.
If you head up towards treeline in the winter, this is the grouse you are most likely to see. They do not turn white (Ptarmigan do that), so often, they stand out in the white of the snow, while doing their best to hide in the forests.
Telling Grouse apart
Dusky Grouse used to be called Blue Grouse. You can see a distinctive blue-grey tone to their plumage, in comparison to the browns and tans of their Spruce and Ruffed cousins. They have no band on their tail like the Ruffed Grouse. The males have no dark chest patch like Spruce Grouse, and no ruff on their heads. Female Duskies are much less mottled and much plainer than female Spruce or Ruffed.
However, it is in the spring mating season when Duskies – especially the males – stand apart. The males have a red patch under their throat and chest feathers, which they puff out and display while hooting like an owl. This is very effective in attracting the girls.
As Blue Grouse, they were lumped in with Sooty Grouse, who are a coastal species. You can’t find Sooties here. In 2006, the two were split as separate but related species. It’s not uncommon to find reference texts that still call them Blue Grouse.
They’re still not smart
As noted on the Spruce and Ruffed pages, grouse are… dumb. Or perhaps “too trusting”. They essentially believe their camouflage is so effective, they cannot be seen by predators. You can literally walk right up to them and pick them up, or step on them if you’re not watching where you are walking. They rarely fly. All of their food is available on the ground, and they are ground nesters, so there’s really no reason for them to fly.
This makes them very vulnerable to off-leash dogs, who can readily trample their nests, catch them, or cause grouse families to scatter.
Meet more of the critters of K-Country here!