The New International Encyclopædia/Grouse

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GROUSE (a false singular, after the analogy of louse, mouse, as singulars of lice, mice, from grice, grise, greese, gray, from OF. griesche, gray, moor-hen, variant of gris, gray, from OHG. grīs, Ger. greis, gray). A game-bird of that section of the rough-footed gallinaceous family Tetraonidæ which includes the larger forms; one of the Tetraoninæ. They are distinguished among birds of their class by their completely feathered shanks (except Bonasa); also by the fact that feathers fill the nasal groove and conceal the nostrils. The toes usually are naked, but are feathered to the claws in ptarmigans (q.v.), and they have pectinations of scales along the edges, which are deciduous. The tail-feathers are from 16 to 18 and sometimes even 22 in number; and in shape the tail is acute, rounded, or forked. The orbital region usually is somewhat bare, and there is above the upper eyelid a naked stripe, marked by short, fringe-like processes. Many genera have an inflatable air-sac on the side of the neck. Often the sides of the neck are further adorned by elongated feathers. The plumage is thick, soft, and handsome, but gay colors and patterns are absent; blacks, purples, and dark greens occur in some forms, but variegated browns, reds, and grays prevail in most species, and there is usually a considerable difference in color and ornamentation between the sexes and some seasonal changes; one genus (Lagopus) turns white in winter. (See Ptarmigan.) The grouse, as a rule, are birds of the forest, but some genera are found in open regions only, and the ptarmigans chiefly inhabit mountain-tops. All, however, seek their food principally and nest wholly on the ground. The food consists of seeds, berries, buds, leaves, insects, worms, small snails, and so on, varying with region, season, and opportunity. The nest is a rude bed of leaves, twigs, and the like, and from six to fifteen eggs are laid, which are brownish and spotted—among the ptarmigans very heavily. All except the ptarmigans are polygamous, and the cocks indulge in demonstrative courtships (see Capercaillie), make various sounds with their wings (see below), and contest fiercely for the possession of their harems, as is the habit of most gallinaceous birds. They trust mainly to concealment for safety, and remain motionless on the ground or perched in a tree until fear overcomes their prudence, when they spring away with a startling whirr of the wings and astonishing speed. Hence trained dogs are needed to find and flush them, and much skill in shooting is required to bring them down in flight, but some of the forest-haunting species will not leave the supposed safety of a tree-perch and are easily killed. They are favorites of sportsmen wherever they occur, and all are most excellent eating, except the few, whose flesh is tainted by their bitter or resinous food. Great numbers are shot for the markets in all northern countries. A brief account of the principal species follows:

Capercaillie and Blackcock. The largest of all grouse is the European capercaillie (q.v.). Next in importance to it in Europe ranks the blackcock or heathcock (Tetrao tetrix), which is the bird to which the name ‘grouse’ primarily applies, although in popular English speech the red grouse or moor-fowl is meant. On the Continent it occurs both in mountainous and marshy countries, as far south as the Apennines. It abounds in most parts of Scandinavia, Russia, and Siberia, and is abundant in Great Britain wherever there are extensive moors or favorable spaces for it. The male, which is much larger than the female, and sometimes weighs four pounds, is a shining bluish black, with a conspicuous white bar on the wings, and a mixture of black and white on the legs; there is a piece of bare scarlet skin over the eye; the outer feathers on each side of the tail are elongated and curve outward, giving it a very peculiar appearance. The female, called ‘grayhen,’ is of a rust-color, darkest on the upper parts, everywhere barred and mottled with a darker color; the tail is straight and even at the end. The young males resemble the females in plumage. It is a gregarious bird, the different sexes, however, in winter generally keeping in flocks by themselves; and, where they are well protected, they often venture into old turnip and stubble fields to feed.

Red Grouse. This, the ordinary ‘grouse’ of Great Britain, the shooting of which, beginning on August 12th, is so important a part of the British sportsman's year, is, properly speaking, a ptarmigan, and is described under that title.

Ruffed Grouse or ‘Partridge.’ The best-known American grouse is the bird called ‘partridge’ in the North and ‘pheasant’ in the South, but it is properly the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus). This familiar and highly prized game-bird, the flesh of which is incomparably superior to that of any other grouse, is found throughout North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Virginia and northern Georgia to Alaska. It is nearly a foot and a half long, and the plumage is handsomely variegated with gray, red-brown, and black. The tail is composed of eighteen feathers, and is crossed near its tip by a broad band of black or brown. On each side of the neck is a tuft of broad, glossy black feathers. These grouse live in woodland, where their nests are made on the ground at the base of a tree or shrub. The eggs are buff-colored, and a dozen, more or less, are laid. (See Colored Plate of Game Birds accompanying this article.) The hazel grouse (Bonasa betulina) of Europe and Asia is a nearly allied species.

One characteristic of this species—its ‘drumming’—is known to almost every one, yet the method of it is widely misunderstood. The sound is produced by the male only, and is most frequent and vigorous in the spring, when it may be regarded as a challenge to other cocks and for the entertainment of the hens; but as it is heard also in summer, and especially in autumn, it cannot be wholly a sexual expression. It may be only an expression of vigor. The manner in which the long, muffled roll, resounding to a great distance through the woods, is produced, was long a puzzle, or most fancifully explained. It was at first supposed to be a vocal effort, whence comes the generic name Bonasa (from bonasus, a bull). The true explanation is that the bird sits crosswise upon the chosen log, resting upon the back of the tarsi, its tail spread horizontally, and its head drawn back. “The wings are then raised and stiffened, and drumming commences by a slow, hard stroke with both wings downward and forward; but they are stopped before they touch the body. The rapidity of this motion is increased after the first few beats, when the wings move so fast that only a semicircular haze over the bird is visible, the rapid vibration causing the rolling noise with which the sound terminates.” So says Henshaw, and Coues and other field ornithologists confirm the statement.

Prairie-Chickens. The Eastern prairie-chicken, or pinnated grouse (Tympanuchus Americanus), is a trifle larger than the ruffed grouse. The general color of the plumage is rufous, with bars and crossings of black; the tail is short and rounded. The male has necktufts of narrow feathers, the largest of which are five inches long; he is more remarkably adorned with two loose pendulous wrinkled patches of skin extending along the sides of the neck for two-thirds of its length, capable of inflation with air, and when inflated resembling in bulk, color, and surface middle-sized oranges. This grouse chiefly inhabits dry open districts, from northwestern Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky westward to central Kansas and the Dakotas. It was at one time abundant on the Western prairies, but has always become rare as a district has become cultivated and populous, notwithstanding laws enacted for its preservation. It has almost disappeared from the State of Kentucky, where it was at one time so extremely abundant that children were constantly employed to prevent its depredations in the cultivated fields, and multitudes were shot and trapped merely to be thrown away. It congregates in flocks in winter, which break up into smaller parties in spring. The males have many combats at the approach of the breeding season. Their voice is a low ‘tooting’ or ‘booming.’ They strut, after the manner of turkey-cocks, with wings let down to the ground, and neck-feathers erected. Certain spots, known as ‘scratching-places,’ seem to be specially appropriated for their displays and combats, and there considerable numbers often meet about daybreak and disperse again after the sun is up. The food of the pinnated grouse consists of seeds, berries, the buds of trees and bushes, insects, and the like.

A very closely allied species, the American heath-hen (Tympanuchus cupido), formerly dwelt in favorable localities in the Middle States and southern New England, Long Island and Cape Cod were its strongholds. It was long confounded with the more widely distributed prairie-chicken, and is now extinct, except a small band on Nantucket Island, which is dwindling away in spite of such protection as can be given them. In 1890 less than 200 were living on Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, and in 1900 it was thought that less than 100 remained. See Extinct Animals.

The ‘prairie-chicken’ of the Northwest is more strictly to be called sharp-tailed grouse (Pediocætes phasianellus), of which there is a northern and a southern race. It is easily distinguished by the extra long middle pair of tail feathers and the darker plumage—clear dusky black above, with no buff about the head. The back is variegated with transverse zigzags of yellowish brown, and there are many white spots on the wings; below, the plumage is white, thickly marked with triangular spots of drab. The sexes are alike. In the southernmost parts of their range they associate with the prairie-chicken, and vary their habits northward only as their environment changes. The northern variety extends from the Saskatchewan Valley to the borders of the Arctic regions.

Sage-Grouse. This species (Centrocerous urophasianus), called in old books ‘cock-of-the-plains,’ is a very large grouse which inhabits the sage-brush districts of the Western United States, feeding upon the bitter buds and leaves so that its flesh is inedible to civilized palates, though consumed by the Indians, who formerly captured it in large numbers with nets. The constant use of soft food has deprived this species of an effective gizzard, and it never feeds upon the grain of the farmers who have invaded its district. Its plumage is dense and soft, the prevalent color yellowish brown, which is beautifully mottled and varied with darker tints. The tail, of 20 feathers, is very long, and much graduated. On each side of the neck is a large bare space, capable, when the bird struts, of being inflated into a hemispherical sac. The female is smaller and of less showy plumage than the male and is destitute of the neck-sacs.

Wood-Grouse. The remaining species of American grouse are denizens of forests. A very widely distributed form is the Canada grouse or ‘spruce-partridge’ (Canace Canadensis), a Western variety of which is called Franklin's grouse or ‘fool hen.’ It is plentiful throughout the forests of Canada, from Maine to Alaska, and when disturbed takes refuge in trees, whence a flock may be shot, one by one, without scaring the others away. In winter it feeds mainly on the leaves and young sprouts of the spruce, which taint its flesh. Its plumage is distinctly barred above with plumbeous and black; beneath it is black, with a white border to the throat and white across the breast and on the sides. The females show a duller mixture of yellowish orange, gray, and black. The eastern and western (Franklin's) varieties may be distinguished by their tails: that of the former is rounded and tipped with rufous, while that of the latter is nearly even, black to the tip, and has the upper tail-coverts (see Bird) broadly tipped with pure white. A Siberian grouse (Canace falcipennis) is closely allied to this. A still larger Western wood-grouse is the ‘blue,’ ‘dusky,’ or ‘pine’ grouse (Dendragapus obscurus). It approaches the capercaillie in size, and may be regarded as the American analogue of the blackcock. Its general color is blackish brown; the wings are lighter and the tail large, rounded, and composed of eighteen or twenty feathers. They keep in the coniferous forests for the most part, and occur throughout the mountain regions from Colorado to central California and northward. For the Arctic grouse (Lagopus), see Ptarmigan.

Bibliography. Standard works of ornithology and field sports. The fullest general account of American grouse is contained in Coues, Birds of the Northwest (Washington, 1874). Consult also: Leffingwell (and others), Shooting on Upland, Marsh, and Stream (Chicago, 1890); Sandys and others, Upland Game Birds (New York, 1902); Lloyd, Game Birds and Wildfowl of Sweden and Norway (London, 1867); Morris, British Game Birds (London, 1891). See Plate of Grouse.


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1. WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus albus); winter plumage.   4. CRESTED GUAN or CURASSOW (Crax alector); male.
2. RUFFED GROUSE (Bonasa umbellus); male. 5. CAPERCAILZIE (Tetrao urogallus); male.
3. BLACK GROUSE (Tetrao tetrix); male. 6. PRAIRIE CHICKEN (Tympanuchus Americanus); male.