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Posts tagged “ruffed grouse

Beaked Hazel

2-15-16 beaked hazelnut  268Because of the popularity of hazel nuts, it is surprising to find viable fruits on Beaked Hazel (Corylus cornuta) in mid- to late winter. Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Beavers, Snowshoe Hares, Raccoons, Red Squirrels, Eastern Chipmunks and White-footed Mice all vie for these delectable nuts.

This multi-stemmed, wind-pollinated shrub bears fruit that is wrapped in a modified leaf (involucre). Beaked Hazel (as opposed to American Hazel, Corylus americana) is named after the tapering beak-shape of its nuts’ involucres. One might suspect that any fruits remaining on hazel shrubs at this time of year must not be edible, but the photographed specimen was very tasty!

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White Baneberry Fruits Mature

8-15-13 white baneberry fruit 056All parts of the White Baneberry plant (as well as Red Baneberry) are highly toxic. The fruit, called “doll’s eyes” for obvious reasons, is the most poisonous part, known to cause respiratory paralysis and cardiac arrest in humans. It does not have this effect on all mammals, however. White-tailed deer are known to browse on baneberry, and small rodents such as mice, squirrels and voles feed on the fruit. Geometrid moth larvae (“inchworms”) burrow into the fruits and their seeds while they (the fruits) are still green. A wide variety of birds, including American Robins and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, eat the fruit, helping disperse the plants when they excrete the brown, wedge-shaped seeds (insert). Ruffed Grouse also eat the fruits, but the seeds are destroyed in the digestive process. Oddly enough, Native Americans used the juice of Red Baneberry to gargle with as well as to poison their arrows.

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Staghorn Sumac to the Rescue

3-5-13 A. robin eating sumac IMG_4893They may not be sweet, plump and juicy, but the fruits of staghorn sumac play a crucial role in the lives of many birds that overwinter in New England. True, they’re not a preferred food for these birds, but because they persist through the winter, these fuzzy fruits are an important source of food in late winter and early spring, when very little else is available. Ruffed grouse and wild turkeys rely on sumac fruit as a source of food throughout the winter, and bluebirds, robins, cardinals, mockingbirds and starlings are frequent visitors to staghorn sumac shrubs this time of year.


Ruffed Grouse Roosts and Scat

1-30-13 grouse beds & scat IMG_2420A trail of ruffed grouse tracks in the snow led me to the spot where two grouse had bedded down for the night behind a fallen tree. With snow too shallow to burrow into, this was as protected a location as they could find. More often than not, a grouse defecates in its night roosting site before leaving in the morning. Grouse scat comes in two forms, one a dry, fibrous cylindrical pellet with a white-wash of uric acid at one end, and the other a softer, darker brown plop. The vast majority of a grouse’s diet (buds, twigs, leaves, catkins) goes directly through its digestive system and forms the dry, courser scat. Finer (and more nutritious) material such as the cambium layer of woody plants enters the caeca, two specialized pouches, before passing through the large intestine. The caeca contain bacteria which break down cellulose and produce the more digested, and therefore more liquefied, scat. Sometimes the two kinds of scat are deposited separately and sometimes, as in the bed on the right in the photograph, together. (Thanks to Dr. Alcott Smith who clarified grouse digestion for me.)


Ruffed Grouse Snow Cave

1-3-12 grouse tunnel IMG_0042When the snow on the ground is 10” or more deep, and the night is very cold, ruffed grouse often seek shelter from the elements by diving into the snow and spending the night there. Sometimes they burrow five or ten feet into the snow, but sometimes, as in this case, they stay pretty much where they landed, perhaps a foot or so deep in the snow bank. This adaptive behavior not only hides them from predators, but serves to insulate the bird, as it rarely goes below 20 degrees F. in the cavity, regardless of how cold the air is. More often than not, the grouse defecates during its stay in the snow (dark matter in photograph). When leaving its snow cave, sometimes a grouse will burst out of the snow as it flies away, but as you can see from the groove in the snow in this photograph, this grouse chose to travel by foot.


Merry Christmas!

I am taking a short break from writing my Naturally Curious blog and will be posting again at the end of next week. This wild partridge (ruffed grouse) and I wish you a wonderful holiday filled with many outdoor discoveries!
12-23-12 Merry Christmas 2013  IMG_3622


Ruffed Grouse Winter Adaptations

12-8-12 ruffed grouse foot IMG_3524The Ruffed Grouse has both behavioral 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.


Ruffed Grouse Crop Contents

Some birds, especially those that eat seeds, buds, leaves and nuts, such as ruffed grouse, eat food very rapidly, faster than it can be passed through the digestive system.  These birds usually have a pouch-like crop where food is stored to be digested later, when the birds are not out in the open, susceptible to predators.  (see 10-24-12 Naturally Curious post)  This rapid consumption and storage of food by grouse, often at dawn and dusk, is referred to as “budding.”  Examining the contents of road-killed grouse crops is one way of learning more about this adaptive behavior.  Assuming some of my readers might (?) share my curiosity about the diet of grouse, I occasionally post the contents of a grouse crop I’ve recently examined.   My most recent dissection revealed that the grouse had switched from its herbaceous summer diet to its more woody winter diet — its crop contained no less than 232 male birch flower buds, or catkins.  (Disclaimer:  This crop was not that of the grouse that was the subject of the 11-9-12 post.)


Ruffed Grouse & Engines

Ruffed grouse, also known locally as partridge, are so well camouflaged that sometimes the only glimpse you get of them is when they explode right in front of you in an attempt to fly away from you. Occasionally, however, one will allow you more than a cursory look (and an opportunity to photograph it up close). This often happens when someone is running an engine, be it lawn mower, wood splitter or 4-wheeler. Upon hearing the sound, a grouse may walk rapidly towards it and linger in the vicinity for hours. Perhaps the occasional female grouse mistakes the sound of an engine for the alluring drumming of a male grouse, as the drumming sounds uncannily like a lawn mower starting up!


Ruffed Grouse Eggs Hatching

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If you stumble, as I did, upon a female Ruffed Grouse whose eggs have recently hatched, be prepared for her fury! When I entered nearby woods, the mother charged at me with her crest raised, tail spread and ruffs (black neck feathers) erect. (Her chicks had dispersed prior to this, well hidden by their camouflaged down.) Fiercely protective, female grouse with young are known for their aggressive behavior. A large grouse might weigh two pounds – to tackle a human weighing more than 50 times as much as oneself is pretty impressive.


Ruffed Grouse Tracks

For the first time this winter, there is enough snow for ruffed grouse to find shelter from the cold by flying into it and creating a burrow that keeps them relatively warm and invisible to predators.  When not resting in their snow burrows on cold nights, or “budding” on nearby aspen buds at dawn and dusk, ruffed grouse do a considerable amount of walking on top of the snow.  Their feet are well equipped for this (see Naturally Curious post for 11/4/11) and leave a chain of two-inch, three-toed imprints, one directly in front of the other. (The grouse that left these tracks was walking toward the bottom of the photograph.)    


Ruffed Grouse Winter Adaptation

Every fall ruffed grouse grow skin-like fringes called pectinations on either side of each toe.  They serve as snowshoes, helping grouse stay on top of the snow when walking, and also help them cling to icy branches while eating the buds of poplars and other trees in the winter.  In the spring grouse shed these adaptive fringes.  The bird whose foot is in this photograph met its untimely death about a week ago (they frequently fly into windows, as this one did), and I was curious to see the stage of development of the pectinations at this time of year.  They appear to be about half to two-thirds the size they will attain when fully developed.


Ruffed Grouse Crop & Gizzard: the initial steps of digestion

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Some birds, especially those that eat seeds, buds, leaves and nuts, such as ruffed grouse, eat food very rapidly, faster than it can be passed through the digestive system.  These birds usually have a pouch-like crop  where food is kept to be digested later, when the birds  are not out in the open, susceptible to predators.  When the grouse roosts, food leaves the crop and passes through the stomach, which has two parts: a proventriculus – an enlarged area where gastric juices begin breaking down the food, and a ventriculus, or gizzard, which is very muscular, and crushes hard items, such as nuts. According to Roger Pasquier, in Watching Birds, the evolution of an internal means of breaking down food has enabled birds to do away with the heavy teeth and jaws found in fossil birds.  Many birds, including grouse, swallow sand or gravel (you’ve probably seen birds on dirt roads doing this) which passes into the gizzard and helps grind up hard food items.  One photograph shows the contents of a grouse’s crop – bits of leaves, what I think are huckleberries, barberry fruits, buds and a twig—all intact.   If you look closely at the photograph of the gizzard contents, you will see, in addition to crushed fruits and seeds (and two pieces of what appear to be nuts in the upper left) that the grouse recently consumed, tiny bits of sand (upper right) which help in the grinding process. 


Beechnuts

Birds and mammals that rely on beechnuts as a staple of their diet include black bears, white-tailed deer, fishers, porcupines, wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, wood ducks, tufted titmice, and numerous small rodents, to name but a few.  There is a good reason for this – beechnuts have about the same protein content as corn, but five times the fat content.  Beechnuts also have nearly twice as much crude protein and twice the fat of white oak acorns and about the same fat content as red oak acorns.  Given the number of husks and nuts that are on the forest floor this fall, it appears that this is a good year for beechnut mast, or seed production.  Research has shown that high beechnut production in the fall is correlated with a high percentage of reproducing female black bears in the coming winter.