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Ruffed Grouse Winter Adaptation

Every fall ruffed grouse grow skin-like fringes called pectinations on either side of each toe.  They serve as snowshoes, helping grouse stay on top of the snow when walking, and also help them cling to icy branches while eating the buds of poplars and other trees in the winter.  In the spring grouse shed these adaptive fringes.  The bird whose foot is in this photograph met its untimely death about a week ago (they frequently fly into windows, as this one did), and I was curious to see the stage of development of the pectinations at this time of year.  They appear to be about half to two-thirds the size they will attain when fully developed.

8 responses

  1. ht

    I’m trying to envision a pectination “on either side of each toe”. In this photo are we looking at 3 toes with 1 pectination? Perhaps we be lucky to see ruffed grouse toe(s) sporting a full grown set in a future post!

    November 4, 2011 at 3:36 pm

  2. ht

    Whoops, should have studied the post more closely. You’re referring to the fringe and I was looking at the short ?toe? at the base of the three toes! Sorry for the gaff!

    November 4, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    • That’s right, the individual pectinations run along both sides of the three front toes.

      November 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm

  3. Peter Stettenheim

    Ptarmigan, allies of grouse in alpine and arctic habitats, also have feathering along the sides of the toes. The feathering is denser in winter than in summer and, together with the pectinations, enlarges the area of the feet by four times. It reduces sinking into the snow by about half, thereby helping the birds to walk on the snow.

    November 4, 2011 at 4:08 pm

  4. Susan Elliott

    I KNEW you would have a photo of a Ruffed Grouse foot here. We used it to identify the remains of a bird at West Rutland Marsh today during our monitoring walk. A Cooper’s Hawk flew up from it as we approached. Bet he had a good feast!

    January 16, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    • Yes, that’s quite a big meal for it, isn’t it! Aren’t those “pectinations” amazing? They disappear come spring and are regrown every fall, and act as snowshoes and ice grippers! And we think humans are clever!

      January 17, 2014 at 1:40 am

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