Bird of the Week

Posted Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the dusky grouse.

If you can recall an event walking in dense forest (and the tightness of chest after the fact) when all of a sudden, wham, explosive wing beats surprised you at a rather short distance, then it is likely you’ve happened upon one or many of this week’s bird. Formerly, this upland game bird was lumped in with its Pacific coastal cousin, the sooty grouse, as one species — the blue grouse.

During breeding season, this species is known for venturing out of its preferred habitat (in mixed conifers and oftentimes subalpine zones) and into lower montane habitats comprised of broken meadows, ponderosa pine and shrubland country.

Both male and female are well-camouflaged for their habitat, cloaked in an ashen gray and brown mottling. The male has a distinct prominent band of gray across the tips of its otherwise black tail feathers. During breeding season and especially visible during courtship displays (if you are so lucky to witness), the male dons a yellow eyebrow strip that can turn red to match its bare skin gular sacs, encircled by white under feathers on the neck.

Grouse vocalizations are rare to experience. The females make more whinny-like calls, resembling that which you might hear coming from their distant cousin in a hen house. Male songs are more like deep, bellowing grunts. Sometimes you can hear them while cross-country skiing in the dead of winter in the high country. Enjoy these upland critters when you stumble across them.

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