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Spruce Grouse Foraging

While Ruffed Grouse are plentiful throughout most of New England, one has to go to northern Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine to see its cousin, the Spruce Grouse.  Associated with boreal forests, this largely herbivorous bird feeds primarily on the needles of pine, spruce and fir (a small amount of animal matter is consumed in the summer as well as ground vegetation). Especially in the winter, a large volume of conifer browse is consumed in order to meet energy demands.

The grouse holds the needle between the tips of its mandibles and breaks it off by flicking its head.  This action, and the fact that Spruce Grouse feed exclusively on needles in the winter, leads to the wearing off of the tip of the bird’s upper mandible by spring.

If you are searching for a Spruce Grouse, you might want to concentrate in the middle of the crowns of trees, as this is where the birds tend to forage. Theories for this preference include the fact that needles in this location have higher nutritive value, branches provide sturdy support, and grouse can see approaching avian predators while remaining partially concealed. (Birds of North America, Cornell Lab of Ornithology). (Photo: male Spruce Grouse browsing on Tamarack needles and (inset) looking for grit on the ground.)

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12 responses

  1. Cheron barton

    Yikes.. that happened quickly.

    Sent from my iPhone


    November 4, 2019 at 7:51 am

  2. Sue Wetmore

    We were fortunate to see two of these birds along the Moose Bog trail this past September. One was on the ground the other high in a tree.

    November 4, 2019 at 7:54 am

  3. Alice

    Pretty bird, but an odd diet!

    November 4, 2019 at 8:30 am

  4. David Govatski

    One of my favorite boreal birds. I have seen spruce grouse in several states and provinces. From my experience, their diet is mostly black spruce, jack pine, and lodgepole pine needles. They also like tamarack needles in late summer. I was not aware of them ever eating fir needles. I have seen them eating buds of shrubs, blueberries, insects, and mushrooms. Around northern New England and Acadia National Park, the best places to look for spruce grouse almost always have black spruce as the primary tree species. Spruce grouse are legally hunted and eaten in Alaska and Minnesota. There was a reintroduction effort at Victory Bog Wildlife Management Area in the NEK of Vermont but I believe that failed. That forest has more balsam fir than black spruce. I suspect hunters sometimes mistake spruce grouse for ruffed grouse when they flush. The female spruce grouse looks somewhat similar to a ruffed grouse.

    I always enjoy Naturally Curious.

    November 4, 2019 at 12:25 pm

  5. Pat Nelson

    I saw a handsome male spruce grouse while hiking in the woods in downeast Maine. At the time I had no idea what it was. I quickly took a shot before it could fly off. But, surprisingly, it didn’t fly away. Instead, it just kept posing only a few feet away from me. I finally got bored before he did. I later read that they are so tame that people have been known to just pick them up and take them home to dinner.

    November 4, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    • Yes, they are incredibly tolerant of humans getting close to them. An easy dinner for some…

      November 4, 2019 at 9:16 pm

  6. Linda

    What happens after they lose part of their mandible? Does it grow back? Can they still eat?

    November 4, 2019 at 6:09 pm

  7. Bill On The Hill

    Fascinating subject matter Mary… I have seen ” ruffed grouse ” on a reg. basis for (20) years now here in the highlands of Corinth. Many people I talk with, with respect to these birds commonly call them partridge, which clearly they are not. My understanding is partridge are not native to North America but are quite common in Europe…
    Excellent photograph on the spruce grouse btw as I have never encountered one!
    Bill… :~)

    November 5, 2019 at 6:52 am

  8. Cheryl McKeough

    Funny story, Mary, about a spruce grouse. Twenty years ago we were on a family hike in boreal forest in the Whites of NH , and our eight year old son spotted a grouse near (you guessed it) a spruce. I suggested he get close for a photo op. Closer…a little closer… and bam! That grouse must have had chicks under the spruce canopy. She gave him a good little peck. Unharmed, but less trusting of mom’s advice, perhaps!

    November 5, 2019 at 7:22 pm

  9. Richard Messerly

    Beautiful bird!
    Great coloring!

    November 5, 2019 at 7:50 pm

  10. I bet it was a while before he trusted his mother’s judgement! Very funny!

    November 5, 2019 at 9:13 pm

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