Photo: Dan Dietrich Photography/Audubon Photography Awards

Dusky Grouse

Dendragapus obscurus

A large, dark forest grouse of inland regions of the western U.S. and Canada. Until recently, this and the Sooty Grouse were considered to make up one species under the name Blue Grouse. Slow-moving and inconspicuous, but often surprisingly tame. Most likely to be noticed (at least by sound) in spring, when males "sing" incessantly to attract mates, a series of deep hoots.
Conservation status Still fairly common. Affected by forest management. May increase after clearcuts, but then declines as these grow up; does very poorly in even-aged tree farms as compared to original old-growth forest.
Family Pheasants and Grouse
Habitat Deciduous and mixed forests in mountains in summer; conifer forests at higher elevations in winter. Prime summer habitat is where forest meets open country, such as sagebrush flats. In winter, these birds favor dense forests of conifers.
A large, dark forest grouse of inland regions of the western U.S. and Canada. Until recently, this and the Sooty Grouse were considered to make up one species under the name Blue Grouse. Slow-moving and inconspicuous, but often surprisingly tame. Most likely to be noticed (at least by sound) in spring, when males "sing" incessantly to attract mates, a series of deep hoots.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on ground in summer, mostly in trees in winter, especially in areas with heavy snow cover.


Eggs

5-10, sometimes 2-12. Pale buff, usually speckled with brown. Incubation is by female only, 25-28 days. Young: Usually leave nest within a day after hatching, and follow female; young find all their own food. Female often fearless in defense of eggs or young, standing her ground when approached closely. Young can make short flights at age of 8-9 days, are full-grown at about 13 weeks.


Young

Usually leave nest within a day after hatching, and follow female; young find all their own food. Female often fearless in defense of eggs or young, standing her ground when approached closely. Young can make short flights at age of 8-9 days, are full-grown at about 13 weeks.

Diet

Conifer needles, leaves, insects. Diet in summer is mostly leaves, flowers, buds, berries, and conifer needles; also many insects. Very young birds may eat more insects than adults. In winter feeds mostly on needles of conifers, including pines, hemlocks, firs, douglas-firs.


Nesting

In breeding season, male gives deep song punctuated with short flights, wings fluttering loudly. In peak display, male struts on the ground with tail raised and fanned, neck feathers spread to reveal patches of bright skin. Female mates with male, then departs. Nest site is on ground, under cover such as shrub, log, rock ledge. Nest a shallow scrape, lined with dead twigs, needles, leaves, a few feathers.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Most birds move in autumn from fairly open breeding areas to dense coniferous forest. In most parts of range, this involves moving uphill to spend the winter, an unusual kind of altitudinal migration. Maximum known travel is about 30 miles, but most go shorter distances. Birds may migrate entirely by walking or may intersperse short flights.

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Migration

Most birds move in autumn from fairly open breeding areas to dense coniferous forest. In most parts of range, this involves moving uphill to spend the winter, an unusual kind of altitudinal migration. Maximum known travel is about 30 miles, but most go shorter distances. Birds may migrate entirely by walking or may intersperse short flights.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Male gives a series of deep hoots, whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop, increasing in tempo and volume.