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Ruffed Grouse Snow Roosting

 

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I recently had an experience while snowshoeing which I have always hoped to have, but which has escaped me during all these years of tromping through the woods. I was following the tracks of a Ruffed Grouse and all of a sudden it exploded out of the snow about two feet in front of me as it left its night time shelter. Now that we have over ten inches of fluffy snow, grouse can dive into the snow and spend the night in their self-made snow roosts. Finding a grouse’s snow roost is a relatively common experience; being startled by a grouse exiting one is not.

Diving head first into the snow, the grouse works its way anywhere from three to ten feet, creating a 4-inch-wide tunnel through the snow before it hollows out a small cavity and settles down for the night in its own little igloo. Up until recently, a hard crust prevented grouse from seeking shelter this winter in this manner. Had temperatures been very cold, many grouse would have suffered and even perished under these conditions. Fortunately, they can now roost in the snow, where temperatures are much warmer (as high as 32°F.), and rarely fall below 20°F. regardless of how cold it gets outside. Not only do these roosts hide the occupants from predators, but they provide an energy savings of 30 percent or more for grouse.

(Photo: Snow roost entrance hole (nearest the bottom of photo) where a grouse dove into the snow, and the exit hole (nearest top of photo), three feet from entrance hole, which a Ruffed Grouse created when it exploded out of its roost. If you look closely at the exit hole, you may be able to detect wing marks.)

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6 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    Nature is full of surprises!

    February 21, 2017 at 8:00 am

  2. I had this happen to me once – what a shock! But really fun, once I recovered from my initial startle.
    Do they always emerge with such a burst of energy, or is this only when they’re alarmed by the sound of a possible danger?

    February 21, 2017 at 8:31 am

    • All reports I’ve heard about have involved a sudden burst out of the snow. Whether or not it is caused by approaching footsteps, I don’t know, but I believe that is how they normally exit, threatened or not.

      February 21, 2017 at 5:42 pm

      • Thanks. And I guess that makes sense. Given how hard I find it to get up when I fall (on my skis) in soft snow, it may be that the easiest way out is actually to use one’s wings!

        February 22, 2017 at 8:42 am

  3. Kathy Schillemat

    Wicked cool is all I can say! I flushed a grouse yesterday, but couldn’t see where it had come from.

    February 21, 2017 at 12:57 pm

  4. Evie Conroy

    Mystery solved! We noticed these large what we thought were footprints of …..what? no tracks leading to them! Maybe our snowshoe track was used…but no evidence. We hooted and howled when we saw today’s post. What a great image it creates of a very special part of our world! Thank you!

    February 21, 2017 at 2:26 pm

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