For ruffed grouse, winter in the Rockies can be a grind
This ruffed grouse is getting some good lift off to get to those tasty rose hips. But wait, don’t they have wings for that?
They do, but…a ruffed grouse’s wing feathers are designed to give them quick and powerful bursts of flight—maybe you’ve seen them furiously flapping to the top of a tree when startled on the trail. That propulsion is probably too high-octane for what is needed here. Plus, the rose bush branches are not nearly stout enough to support the weight of the grouse, should it try to fly up and perch.
So some improvised techniques are required. Additionally, this feathered friend is getting some help from its avian snowshoes, both to help provide some liftoff and to keep from sinking deeper in the snow.
Ruffed grouse are one of two species of grouse commonly seen in Jasper National Park. They are resident birds—no migratory movements to exotic southern or western destinations. Resident species often have adaptations to help them through the long periods of snow, cold and darkness.
For the ruffed grouse, one of these adaptations is their pectinations—scaly skin growths on the inner and outer sides of their toes—which enlarge the surface area of the foot and essentially create that snowshoe effect. Winter movements are made easier and the ‘shoes’ are shed in spring. Ruffed grouse are more of a land bird than a flier.
After a long winter of subsisting on buds and twigs, overwintering fruit provides some variety in the diet and this bird appears to have found a creative way to enjoy its meal.
Are you curious about critters in Jasper National Park? Email us and we’ll do our best to report on the Rockies’ wonderful world of wildlife.
Trish Tremblay // firstname.lastname@example.org