At a Glance
Common in the north woods but very easy to overlook, the Spruce Grouse eludes many birders who seek it. Absurdly tame, it may sit motionless while observers pass by just a few feet away, and it may thus go unnoticed. Spruce Grouse are usually solitary in summer, but in winter they may gather in loose flocks. They readily perch in trees, and do most of their feeding there in winter.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Pheasants and Grouse, Upland Ground Birds
Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Western Canada
Flap/Glide, Rapid Wingbeats, Running
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Most individuals are permanent residents, but some move short distances (less than ten miles) between summer and winter territories. This "migration" is accomplished on foot. Females more likely to move than males, and tend to go farther.
15-17" (38-43 cm). Male looks gray, with white edging on black throat and chest, red "combs" above each eye. In most regions, note the rusty tip on black tail. Female may look reddish or grayish overall. Similar to Ruffed Grouse but has shorter, darker tail, black and white bars on belly; lacks broad bars on sides. Note: in a form found in northern Rockies called "Franklin's Grouse", male lacks rusty tail tip and has white spots above base of tail.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White
Fingered, Rounded, Short
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
Males give a low krrrrk, krrrk, krrk, krrk, krrk, said to be the lowest-pitched vocal sound of any North American bird. Females produce low clucking notes.
Conifer forest, pines, muskeg. Almost always in conifer forest but not necessarily in spruce. Prime habitat includes burned areas grown up to dense stands of jack pine or lodgepole pine, also forests of spruce, subalpine fir, hemlock, with dense undergrowth. Also on blueberry barrens. During dispersal in fall, sometimes found in deciduous woods.
Sign up for Audubon's newsletter to learn more about birds like the Spruce Grouse
4-10, usually 5-7. Olive to buff, usually blotched with brown. Females of Franklin's race tend to lay fewer eggs. Incubation is by female only, about 20-24 days. When leaving nest, female may partly cover eggs with dry needles and leaves.
Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching. Female tends young, brooding them at night and in cool weather; young find all their own food. Young can make short flights at 6-8 days old, are full-grown at about 10-11 weeks, become independent at about 10-15 weeks.
Does much of its foraging on the ground in summer; forages almost entirely in trees in winter.
Mostly conifer needles. Adults are mostly vegetarian, feeding heavily on needles of pines, spruce, other conifers. Diet may be almost entirely conifer needles in winter. At other times also eats fresh green shoots and leaves of other plants, berries, flowers, insects, snails, and fungi. Very young birds may eat more insects.
Both females and males defend individual territories in breeding season. Male displays by drumming with wings, making deep thumping sound audible only at close range. Males of Franklin's race also make loud wing-clap in flight. In courtship, male raises and spreads tail, fluffs out feathers, postures in front of female. One male may mate with several females. Nest site is on ground under dense cover. Nest (built by female) is shallow depression, lined with a few needles and leaves.
Local populations fluctuate in numbers. May have declined in parts of southern edge of range, but still common in far north.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Spruce Grouse. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Spruce Grouse
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.