A majority of male passerines, or perching birds (also called songbirds) claim territories and secure mates through song. With the help of a syrinx, or voice box, musical notes, some more complex than others, are created. There are species of birds in different orders that use other parts of their bodies for territorial and courtship displays, among them ruffed grouse (wings), American woodcock (wings) and Wilson’s snipe (tail).
Male ruffed grouse, also known as partridge, are aggressively territorial throughout their adult lives, defending roughly 6-10 acres of woodland which is usually shared with one or two hens. The male grouse claims his property by engaging in a “drumming” display during which he creates a sound reminiscent of a lawn mower starting up. This sound is made by the male beating his wings against the air to create a vacuum, as lightning does when it makes thunder. The drummer usually stands on a log, stone or mound of dirt roughly 10-12 inches above the ground when drumming and this substrate is called a “drumming log.” He does not strike the log to make the noise, he only uses the drumming log as a stage for his display.
Grouse occasionally drum in the summer and fall, but in the spring, drumming becomes more frequent and prolonged as the male advertises his location to hens seeking a mate. This phenomenon is heard but rarely seen by humans; Lang Elliott has captured both the sight and sound of a ruffed grouse drumming in this extraordinary video: http://langelliott.com/mary-holland/ruffed-grouse/ (Sound recording © Lang Elliott – langelliott.com)
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