Posted by: columbiahighlands | November 17, 2010

Highlands wildlife – grouse

If you’ve spent any time in the backcountry of the Columbia Highlands, you’ve no doubt startled, and been startled by, a grouse.

Fool hen. Photo: Holly Weiler.

Three of the four grouse species in Washington—ruffed, dusky (blue) and spruce—can be found in the forests of northeast Washington. (In 2006, American Ornithologists’ Union divided blue grouse into two species, dusky grouse and sooty grouse, the Cascades roughly dividing the range of the two species).

Broadly speaking, the ranges for ruffed, dusky and spruce grouse lie on a gradient of increasing elevation. Ruffed grouse, which derive their name from the dark ruff around their neck, can be found in lower- to mid-elevation mixed-conifer forests and river corridors. Dusky grouse, the largest of the three species, prefer relatively dry and open areas—mixed-conifer forest, sagebrush steppe, grassland and aspen groves—during breeding season, but the birds usually winter in denser, higher-elevation forests such as the Selkirk Mountains and the Kettle Crest. Spruce grouse are largely confined to the northeast corner of the state, where they inhabit dense lodgepole pine-Engelmann spruce forests above 4000 feet.

Although populations appear to have been declining over the last several years, grouse are still a frequent companion to backcountry travelers, especially in the open sagebrush meadows along the spine of the Kettle Range and high mountain peaks like Abercrombie Mountain.

Grouse are a popular game bird. Photo: Aaron Theisen.

Although ruffed and dusky grouse will, in a burst of flailing wings, flee to a nearby tree branch when approached, spruce grouse have earned the nickname “fool hen” for their guilelessness and will even approach humans. Consequently, grouse remain a popular game bird and one of the easiest for birders to check off their lists and for hunters to bring home for supper.



  1. […] to be surprised by the heart-stopping thrrump of grouse flushing from the trees, which are thick with three species of these by-turns wary and credulous […]

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