These chunky, medium-sized birds weigh from 450â€“750Â g (0.99â€“1.65Â lb), measure from 40 to 50Â cm (16 to 20Â in) in length and span 50â€“64Â cm (20â€“25Â in) across their short, strong wings. Ruffed grouse have two distinct morphs, grey and brown. In the grey morph, the head, neck and back are grey-brown; the breast is light with barring. There is much white on the underside and flanks, and overall the birds have a variegated appearance; the throat is often distinctly lighter. The tail is essentially the same brownish grey, with regular barring and a broad black band near the end (“subterminal”). Brown-morph birds have tails of the same color and pattern, but the rest of the plumage is much more brown, giving the appearance of a more uniform bird with less light plumage below and a conspicuously grey tail. There are all sorts of intergrades between the most typical morphs; warmer and more humid conditions favor browner birds in general.
The ruffs are on the sides of the neck in both sexes. They also have a crest on top of their head, which sometimes lies flat. Both genders are similarly marked and sized, making them difficult to tell apart, even in hand. The female often has a broken subterminal tail band, while males tend to have unbroken tail bands, though the opposite of either can occur. Females may also do a display similar to the male. Another fairly accurate sign is that rump feathers with a single white dot indicate a female; rump feathers with more than one white dot indicate a male.
- “Hunting of the ruffed grouse is common in the northern and far western United States as well as Canada, Often done with shotguns. Dogs may also be used. Hunting of the ruffed grouse can be challenging. This is because the grouse spends most of its time in thick brush, aspen stands, and second growth pines. It is also very hard to detect a foraging grouse bobbing about in the thicket due to their camouflage. With adequate snow cover they will burrow under the snow. Like other forest creatures, the ruffed grouse will maintain trails through the underbrush and pines. These can often be found by looking for the feathers of the bird on the ground and on twigs at the edges of its trail. Hunting of the ruffed grouse requires a good ear and lots of stamina as you will be constantly walking and listening for them in the leaves.” â€“ Joseph B. Barney
Ruffed grouse frequently seek gravel and clover along road beds during early morning and late afternoon. These are good areas to walk during this time to flush birds. Also, grouse use sandy road beds to dust their feathers to rid themselves of skin pests. Dusting sites are visible as areas of disturbed soils with some signs of feathers. Birds will return to these spots during the late afternoon to bathe in dust and to socialize and mate.
The ruffed grouse population has a cycle, and follows the cycle no matter how much or how little hunting there is. The cycle has puzzled scientists for years, and is simply referred to as the “grouse cycle”.
Minnesota is the top ruffed grouseâ€“producing state in the U.S.