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Ruffed Grouse Make Do With Shallow Soft Snow Depth

snow cave 143There are about five or six inches of new powdery snow on top of an icy crust in parts of central Vermont now, with more to come soon. It is common knowledge that ten inches of snow are necessary for Ruffed Grouse to dive into and burrow under the snow in order to make an insulating nocturnal snow roost. With only five inches of snow, a grouse still seeks shelter, but somehow it knows not to dive into the snow from the air. Rather, it lands on the surface of the snow, and then walks along making a groove in the snow as it goes, until it decides to rest for the night.

Several such resting spots were apparent today at the base of trees — slight depressions fully exposed. The grouse that made the snow roost in this photograph shuffled through the snow and then scrunched down without breaking the surface of the snow where it settled for the night, so that it had an inch or two of snow over its body – hiding it from predators, if not providing much insulation. In the morning, after defecating, it departed, not bursting out of a snow bank as it would if there were a lot of snow, but instead lifting off in plain view, leaving faint wing prints on the surface of the snow.

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4 responses

  1. David Govatski

    I recall several instances while working on snowshoes in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that a ruffed grouse exploded out from the snow in front of me. It was a startling experience each time that it happened.

    January 30, 2015 at 9:24 am

    • Cecelia Blair

      David, did you see wolves on the Upper Peninsula? What were you studying up there?
      Thank you!

      January 30, 2015 at 9:32 am

  2. Dorothy Rosenthal

    When we lived in the Adirondacks a ruffed grouse visited me while I caring for my (mostly) wildflower garden. He/she was very tame and hung around, which was nice except he kept pecking at plants as I was working on them, and pecking my hand in the process. I couldn’t get rid of him and he returned every day for weeks. He would follow me when I went for walks along the mud road or into the woods on the other side. All the neighbors knew about my friend and named him/ her ” Dum-dum” because he didn’t know he was a grouse and not a pet. This went on for quite a while – sometimes funny, sometimes annoying – until a neighbor found his body on the side of the road. It looked as though he had been attacked by a predator, but we couldn’t tell what kind. I felt sad to lose Dum-dum in a way, but it was also nice to have my garden to myself again. I wondered if he was young and had imprinted on me. Have you ever heard of a grouse this tame? Dorothy Rosenthal, Amherst, MA

    Sent from my iPad


    January 30, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    • I had a similar experience, Dorothy, as have several people I know. I do not know why this happens — I had one come sit on my knee as I sat in the woods – a very magical experience!

      January 30, 2015 at 4:48 pm

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