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Ruffed Grouse Winter Adaptations

12-8-12 ruffed grouse foot IMG_3524The Ruffed Grouse has both behavioral and physical strategies for dealing with the cold, snow and ice of New England winters.  Three of the physical changes that take place in the fall are evident by looking closely at a grouse’s legs, feet and beak. The feathers on its legs grow thicker and further down towards its feet, to provide better insulation.  Small comb-like growths of skin, called pectinations, develop along either side of each toe.  These increase the surface area of a grouse’s foot, and serve as snowshoes in deep snow.  They also help the grouse cling to icy branches while it quickly snips off poplar and other buds at either end of the day.  And on its beak, feathers expand downward to cover its nostrils, slowing the cold air and giving it a chance to warm up before it is inhaled by the grouse.

7 responses

  1. Elizabeth

    Cool! I am baffled as to how you even got this photo. “Pectinations” would make a great word for the Dictionary game. I’d have guessed it had something to do with jam-making.

    December 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    • Occasionally a grouse is attracted to the sound of a wood splitter, chainsaw, 4-wheeler (engine sounds like drumming, is my guess why this happens) and sometimes they are incredibly tame, even though they’re totally wild birds. I was lucky enough to experience this this fall, and will never forget how it trusted and approached me.

      December 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      • dellwvt

        Oh, my goodness. Your explanation of how you got this photo is quite remarkable! It’s also amazing to me, as I bundle up in all my layers against the cold, to think that such subtle changes can allow animals to survive and even thrive through our winters.

        December 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    • “ ‘Pectinations’ would make a great word for the Dictionary game. I’d have guessed it had something to do with jam-making.” LOL – yes!

      December 8, 2012 at 4:51 pm

  2. Mimi

    That is the most amazing photograph. I am learning so much from your posts. Thank you for doing this.

    December 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm

  3. Irma S. Graf

    Incredible picture!

    December 10, 2012 at 4:52 pm

  4. Reblogged this on Birds of Vermont Museum and commented:
    If you’re not already following Mary Holland’s blog, do!

    December 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm

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