Bird Database

Ruffed Grouse

(Bonasa umbellus)

State of the Birds
At a Glance







Habitat loss and fragmentation, Habitat maturation, Disease,

Conservation Actions

Some habitat management is still required to ensure an adequate mix of habitats, and hunting is still used to manage population numbers

Ruffed Grouse

(Bonasa umbellus)

The drumming display of the Ruffed Grouse is heard frequently in the spring woods throughout New Hampshire. The sound starts slowly and speeds up and is produced by air rushing into a vacuum made as the male rapidly beats his wings in front his body. This may entail as many as five wing beats per second. The display is intended to both attract mates and alert other males of territory boundaries, much the same roles as singing serves in many other birds. If drumming doesn’t dissuade a neighboring male, a grouse will shift to a visual display wherein it ruffs up its neck feathers and fans its tail like a miniature turkey.

Ruffed Grouse require forests with early successional patches, particularly dense clumps of young aspen, willow, or birch. The closely spaced stems in such habitats provide cover from predators, and the plants themselves are the source of most of this species’ diet. Depending on the season they feed on buds, twigs, leaves, catkins, and fruit, and even small twigs during the winter months. And although we tend to think of grouse as ground birds, it is not uncommon to see one high in a tree, often far out on a branch to reach tender new buds. During the nesting season they also consume insects and other invertebrates picked off the ground.

Their dependance on early successional habitat has had significant impacts on grouse populations. By the 1800s, extensive logging had reduced forest cover significantly and the species was scarce. As former farmland regenerated into the middle 1900s grouse populations recovered, only to now face losses from development and reduced management activity. The species is still common, and ongoing management focused on its needs is likely to allow it to persist. At the same time, a new threat has entered the picture. West Nile Virus first appeared in the northeastern US in 1999 and soon spread throughout the region. Initially the most obvious impacts were in birds like crows and raptors, but ongoing research in Pennsylvania has implicated it in grouse declines as well. Grouse might have overcome the disease, but populations fragmented by habitat loss seem more vulnerable. There are limited data on the impact of West Nile Virus in New Hampshire, but since grouse are a popular game bird their populations are carefully monitored.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Ruffed Grouse
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count