The Ruffed Grouse is a bird of the forests across much of North America, from Alaska and the mountains of the west through Canada, and in the east down through the Appalachians to Georgia. It is a beautiful bird and well worth taking some time to examine closely if such a situation can somehow be arranged. A close look at a grouse is not something that is very likely unless the viewer is very lucky, however, as Ruffed Grouse tend to be wary and will explode into flight if approached too closely, usually well before the person trying to get a good look is even aware that the bird is present. This is not to say that a good look is impossible, especially if a car is used as a blind. From cars I have had great views of Ruffed Grouse, including the encounter that is documented with photographs in this post.
My first encounter with a grouse was more typical. I was in my early teens and hiking in the Catskills in the snow with a friend when an explosion of bird took off from about two feet in front of us startling me to the point that I fell on my butt in the snow. At the time I had no idea what had so scared me and it was only in retrospect that I realized that my encounter was with Bonasa umbellus, or what the folks who hunt them typically call “partridge.”
The bird in the images in this post wandered out onto a dirt road in the Adirondack Mountains of New York four years ago, probably to grit, and when Daisy and I drove up it walked up onto the side of a snowbank, looked around a bit, and then made its way over the snowbank and into the woods. Some shots here were taken by Daisy because the grouse was on the passenger side but at some point she handed me the camera and I took over photographing this beautiful bird. The fog of time has clouded my recollection of exactly which shots she took and which I did but what matters is that we both were very happy to see such a gorgeous bird so well.
BirdLife International lists the Ruffed Grouse as a Species of Least Concern because of its large range and population. Though its population appears to be in decline it is not decreasing rapidly enough to qualify as Vulnerable. Habitat loss would appear to be the biggest threat to the grouse’s population, but it has the benefit of being both extremely liberal in its diet and a favorite target of hunters who do a lot of work to ensure that enough suitable habitat remains for the birds so that they can keep shooting them.
Enjoy these shots of Ruffed Grouse and remember that shooting them with a camera brings as much joy as shooting them with a gun and leaves the bird intact to be enjoyed by the next person…
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This post has been submitted to Bird Photography Weekly #138. Go check it out!