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Winter Adaptations of the Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse have both behavioral (diving into the snow on cold nights) 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.

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5 responses

  1. Alice

    Helpful adaptions.

    February 10, 2020 at 8:12 am

  2. Sonya

    Absolutely. Fascinating.
    Thank you!

    February 10, 2020 at 8:14 am

  3. Barbara Bloomberg

    I once had a grouse come up to me as I put on micro-spikes on a ridge trail in the Carters at this time of year. As it started to attack my legs, I quickly got up and took off up the trail. I thought I would be fine once I got out of his – or her – territory, but that darn bird followed parallel to us just a few feet away, for close to (or over? It seemed like forever!) a half mile!
    A other story of bird behavior, a few years ago on a dirt road in central Connecticut, I saw a woodcock ahead of me, intently looking at the ground and stomping out a tribal beat (boom-chockalocka-boom). I assume he was trying to coax worms to the surface, but his (or her) bobbing tribal dance was just hysterical to watch!

    February 10, 2020 at 10:07 am

  4. bill on the hill

    I’ll never understand why the locals insist on calling these birds partridge, for the partridge is a bird of Europe as I understand it & was a imported game bird here in the states…

    February 10, 2020 at 12:40 pm

  5. Susan Holland

    What a great photograph!!!

    February 10, 2020 at 6:54 pm

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