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A photo of a Spruce Grouse (Canachites canadensis), male
Spruce Grouse, Male

Spruce Grouse

Canachites canadensis

The spruce grouse, or Canachites canadensis, known colloquially as the Canada grouse, spruce hen, or fool hen, is a medium-sized grouse that is intimately connected with the coniferous boreal forests, or taiga, of North America. It stands as the sole representative of its genus, Canachites. This bird is notably arboreal, adept at perching and navigating the tree branches of its woodland home.

Identification Tips

Males of this species typically measure 38–43 cm in length and weigh between 550–650 g, while females are slightly lighter at 450–550 g. The males are predominantly grey above and black below, adorned with white spots along their sides and a distinctive red patch of bare skin over the eye known as the "eyebrow comb." Females exhibit a mottled brown or grey plumage with dark and white barring on the underparts. Juveniles bear a resemblance to the females. The spruce grouse can be distinguished from similar species, such as the ruffed grouse, by its dark tail with a pale terminal band and its lack of crown feather erection when alarmed.

Habitat

The spruce grouse is a denizen of coniferous forests, showing a preference for pine, spruce, or fir. It is often found in young successional stands and, during summer, in areas with a rich understory of blueberries and other shrubs. In winter, it favors denser stands for shelter.

Distribution

This grouse is widespread across Canada and inhabits parts of Alaska, northern New England, the Adirondacks in New York, northern Michigan, northeastern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and the montane coniferous forests of Montana, Idaho, Maine, Oregon, and Washington.

Behaviour

The spruce grouse is a ground-dweller, preferring to walk or move along tree limbs rather than take flight, which it typically reserves for short distances. In the fall, it grows "snow shoes" on its toes to aid in traversing snow and gripping branches, which are shed come spring.

Song & Calls

While generally quiet, the spruce grouse does have a repertoire of calls for various purposes such as predator warning, territory defense, and brood cohesion. The subspecies franklinii is known for a wing-clap display by territorial males, producing sharp claps that can be heard from a distance.

Breeding

The spruce grouse is a promiscuous species, with males establishing territories that females visit for mating. Females are solely responsible for nesting and rearing the young. Nesting occurs from early May to early July, with females laying up to 10 eggs. Incubation lasts about 24 days, and chicks are precocial, leaving the nest within hours of hatching.

Diet and Feeding

In winter, the spruce grouse feeds primarily on conifer needles, while in summer, it consumes berries, green plants, fungi, and some insects. The bird's digestive system adapts seasonally to accommodate its diet, with an increase in the size of the caeca and ventriculus during winter.

Conservation status

The spruce grouse is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, it is considered threatened at the southern edge of its range, with varying levels of protection and hunting regulations across different states and provinces.

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