In winter, grouse conserve energy by burrowing under the snow to roost. You can often see a track left behind by a grouse that was sitting in the snow with just its head poking up above the surface. Wing prints are often visible on the snowy surface, heading in the direction that the grouse left the roost.
This fibrous scat was found in a grouse roosting location. Grouse have two different kinds of droppings. The solid scat shown above is from the lower gut. A second type of scat comes from the cecum or upper gut. The liquidy brown-coloured cecum scat comes out second and can often be found on top of the lower gut scat or at a different roosting site.
We learned from our trip leader Alexis, that the shaft of a grouse tail feather has a distinct shape. The calamus (end of the shaft closest to the bird) bends upward to the rachis (end of the shaft where the feather vanes attach). Do all birds have this? Does this shape offer an advantage to the bird’s survival? I wonder if grouse feathers are modified for display rather than flight?
The tracking group had a good discussion on how to tell the difference between a male and a female grouse feather. It was suggested that the colour of the tip of a grouse tail feather indicates male (black tip) or female (brown tip). However, I could not find evidence to back up this claim. I went to an “Upland Bird Hunting” web-site and found some more information:
“Generally, the central tail feather of a male ruffed grouse is six inches or longer. Central tail feathers from a female are shorter than six inches. The appearance of the band on the central tail feather can also indicate sex, but this method is not always reliable. A distinct black band indicates a male, but males do not always have a complete band. The band on a female is generally not complete.”*
*The Ultimate Hunting Community, n.d., viewed October 13, 2014, http://www.huntingnet.com/forum/upland-bird-hunting/173956-identifying-male-vs-female-ruffed-grouse.html
Here are a couple of images to help understand this identification method:
Males are identified by the unbroken black tail band. The tail band for females is less distinct on the central two feathers. How do you know if you have found a central feather?
Grouse Dust Bath
Dust bathing is essential for plumage maintenance. The preen gland exudes oil, which birds then preen through their plumage. Dust bathing removes clots and excess amounts of oil. Clots of oil result in feathers sticking together – leading to problems with flight, waterproofing and regulating heat. Dust bathing may also help eliminate parasites. (Bird Tracks and Sign*, page 271)
*Elbroch, M. & Marks, E. 2001, Bird Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.
Grouse dust baths tend to be round whereas cottontail rabbits create similar-sized oblong dust baths. Upon closer inspection, we found feathers in the dust bath: