What is a Grouse?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A grouse can refer to quite a few, about 30, bird genera and species. These are primarily game birds, bearing some relationship to the pheasant. They populate areas of Europe, Asia and North America, and are mostly ground-dwelling birds that tend to run rather than fly when they need to escape.


The smallest grouse is the White Tailed Ptarmigan, which makes its home throughout most of North America. These can be found as far north as Alaska, and are considered an alpine species. There are a few populations of ptarmigans that live as far south as New Mexico. The White Tailed Ptarmigan is hunted, even though it is relatively small. It weighs about .94 pounds (.43kg), and is approximately a foot (30.48 cm) in length. In appearance this ptarmigan has a white breast and tail, with brown and speckled feathers on its back and head. Its head is similar to a pigeon or dove, with a much smaller, sharper beak.

In North America, the largest grouse is the Greater-Sage Grouse, or Centrocercus urophasianus. The bird, particularly the male, has a very distinct appearance and is known for mating rituals that are quite unusual. Males have two yellow air sacks on the neck that they fill with air when they are trying to impress females. The expression “puffed up” could be well applied to the courting male grouse, as the look is particularly comical to humans. Unfortunately, this bird is considered endangered due to habitat destruction. They are not listed as endangered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, mainly due to their popularity as game.

One North American grouse that is extinct because of overhunting is the Heath Hen or Tympanuchus cupido cupido. There is speculation that these birds may have been the first Thanksgiving supper “turkey” enjoyed by the pilgrims. Despite efforts to help the species recover in the early 20th century, the Heath Hen gradually died off, the last known member of the species dying in 1932.

Species of grouse inhabit forests, mountains, and plains, and their coloring often reflects their local landscape, providing good camouflage. Most of these birds eat a diet of seeds with the occasional supplementation of insects. Grousing is a verb, meaning complaining, that certainly references the unusual calls of these birds, which can sound unhappy or angry. In plural form, the animal is still grouse, not grice. In verb form, someone “grouses” about troubles. The only time grouses may be used in referring to this diverse group of birds is when a person is talking about several species at the same time.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@oceanswimmer: During the winter, the ruffed grouse bird develops a web-like structure that joins the toes, making it easy for them to walk in snow. The mating ritual of the male consists of a drumming with the wings. They perch on logs or rocks and make noise with their wings that sounds like drumming.

The female lays anywhere from 8 to 14 eggs and they hatch in about 20 days. The babies follow the mother bird around for three or four months and then go on their way.

The ruffed grouse has an amazing ability to bury themselves in snow during cold winter nights.


@oceanswimmer: The ruffed grouse is one of the smaller species of grouse birds. It is primarily a ground dwelling bird. It is also non-migratory. The adult ruffed grouse bird grows to a length of around 20 inches. The females are slightly smaller than the males. Oddly enough, the gender of these birds can be found by looking at the tail band. In the female, it is broken.

The ruffed grouse will usually spend their whole life in the same area.


I am having a hard time finding information on the ruffed grouse. Does anyone have any info they could share?

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