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A photo of a Sooty Grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus), male
Sooty Grouse, Male

Sooty Grouse

Dendragapus fuliginosus

The Sooty Grouse, known scientifically as Dendragapus fuliginosus, is a robust bird with a preference for forested environments along North America's Pacific Coast Ranges. The males are predominantly dark with distinctive yellow throat air sacs framed by white, and a yellow wattle above the eye during their display. Females, on the other hand, exhibit a mottled brown plumage with intricate dark brown and white markings on their underparts. One can discern the sexes by their necks and bodies; females have elongated, slender necks, while males boast stouter frames.

Identification Tips

When identifying the Sooty Grouse, look for the adult's long square tail with a light gray terminal band. The male's yellow throat sac and wattle are particularly noticeable during courtship displays. Females are less conspicuous, blending into the forest floor with their camouflaged plumage.

Habitat

These birds are indigenous to the edges of conifer and mixed forests in the mountainous regions of western North America. They have a strong affinity for old forests rich in diverse plant life and trees. However, they are also drawn to regenerated areas that have been logged or burned, provided there is ample underbrush for nesting.

Distribution

The Sooty Grouse can be found from southeastern Alaska and Yukon, extending southward to California. Their distribution is closely tied to the presence of conifers. A notable population resides on Grouse Mountain, the peak of Vancouver, Canada, which was named in honor of these birds by the first hikers to reach its summit.

Behaviour

Sooty Grouse are year-round residents that exhibit the peculiar behavior of moving to higher altitudes during winter. They transition from open breeding areas in the autumn to dense coniferous forests to endure the colder months.

Song & Calls

The male Sooty Grouse produces a series of deep, resonant hoots from high perches in the trees, reminiscent of a quiet, deep drum being struck. This haunting call is part of their territorial display to attract mates.

Breeding

During the breeding season, males perform short flapping flights and vocalize to court females. After mating, females depart from the male's territory to construct a ground nest, well-hidden under vegetation. They lay a clutch of 5 to 10 eggs, which are cream-colored with brown speckles for camouflage.

Diet and Feeding

The Sooty Grouse's diet varies seasonally. In winter, they subsist primarily on needles from fir and Douglas-fir trees, occasionally consuming hemlock and pine needles. Come summer, their diet shifts to include green plants, berries, and insects, with a particular fondness for ants, beetles, and grasshoppers. Newly hatched chicks rely almost exclusively on insects for the first ten days. The ingestion of grit and tiny stones aids in the digestion of their food.

Conservation status

While currently classified as Least Concern, the Sooty Grouse faces population declines due to habitat loss, particularly at the southern end of their range in California. The preservation of old-growth forests is crucial to prevent an increase in their risk of endangerment.

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Sooty Grouse Fun Facts

Did you know?
Normally all the birds of a species have the same number of tail feathers, however, Sooty Grouse can have between 15 and 22.

Sooty Grouse on Birda

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