Bird Database

Spruce Grouse

(Canachites canadensis)

State of the Birds
At a Glance







Habitat loss and fragmentation,

Conservation Actions

Protect intact blocks of spruce-fir habitat that allow for natural successional processes

Spruce Grouse

(Canachites canadensis)

The Spruce Grouse is a secretive species of New Hampshire’s Spruce Fir Forests, one of a handful of true “boreal” species that extend south into northern New England. And while it can be hard to find, it’s easy to see when stumbled upon, since it is famous for its tameness. Sometimes called the “fool hen,” hikers have reported being able to walk right up to Spruce Grouse on trails in the White Mountains, even so close as to almost touch the birds. The key in these situations is to be the first person on the trail, since while they’re tame the birds will generally wander deeper into the woods as human traffic increases.

The diet of the Spruce Grouse, especially in the winter, is dominated by conifer needles. Pine is preferred, followed by spruce and larch. Because these needles have low nutritional value and are difficult to digest birds must consume vast quantities of them to meet their metabolic needs. Luckily for the grouse, needles are readily available and foraging birds don’t need to spend a lot of time searching for food. They also have a longer intestine to facilitate more efficient digestion. When spring brings greenery to the forest floor, the birds will spend more time foraging there, consuming the buds, flowers, and leaves of forbs and shrubs – with blueberries being particularly important. Chicks start off by eating mostly invertebrates but shift to a plant diet after a few weeks.

In New Hampshire Spruce Grouse use both high-elevation and lowland Spruce Fir Forest and are most common in stands with an open mossy understory. In the White Mountains they occur primarily above 2500’ but are rarely encountered in the denser krummholz zone. Black spruce and tamarack bogs, especially the edges where trees are denser, are an additional habitat in the lowlands in Pittsburg and around Lake Umbagog. Because Spruce Grouse have low dispersal ability, it’s not clear how habitat fragmentation in New Hampshire has affected them, although at present the species appears secure. In contrast, it is listed as endangered in New York and Vermont, where grouse are restricted to small areas isolated from the rest of the species’ range.

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.

Spruce 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