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Ruffed Grouse Tracks and Sign

Snowshow Hares aren’t the only PEI animals to have feet well-adapted to snowy, winter conditions. Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) do too! Today we look at Grouse tracks and sign.

Photo 1: Ruffed Grouse track.

Ruffed Grouse leave distinctive tracks, with three long toes pointing forward and one short toe pointing back (Photo 1). This is the ‘Game Bird arrangement’, found not only in our native Ruffed Grouse but also in two common non-native game birds: Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) and Hungarian Partridge (Perdix perdix).

Photo 2: Ruffed Grouse walking gait.

Ruffed Grouse tracks are in the range of six centimeters long (about 2.5 inches), and the centre toe points slightly to the mid-line of the trail (Photo 2). Pheasant tracks are larger – up to 7.5 centimetres (three inches) – and the middle toe is straighter. Huns (also called Grey Partridge) travel in groups called coveys this time of year and leave smaller tracks, about five centimetres (two inches) long.

In fall, Ruffed Grouse grow fringes along the sides of their toes, called ‘pectination’ (Photo 3). This increases the surface area of the foot much like snowshoes do for us. If you get a really clear Ruffed Grouse track, you can see imprints from the pectination. Those fringes are seasonal and will be lost in spring.

Photo 3: Ruffed Grouse foot showing pectination.

Grouse also use snow to their advantage, diving into it for cover on cold winter nights. In addition to insulating the Grouse from wind and cold, this also hides its scent from predators. This comes with a bit of risk during the up-and-down winter temperatures that are more common these days. If a Grouse burrows into powdery snow which then gets covered by a layer of ice, the animal can get trapped.

Photo 4: Ruffed Grouse scat. This pile shows where the bird roosted for the night.

With so little snow this year, I’m finding cozy Grouse roosts under thick conifers, including under trees that were felled by Hurricane Fiona. A pile of distinctive, tubular, white-tipped scat (Photo 4) reveals the location where a Grouse spent the night.

I’m seeing lots of Ruffed Grouse sign this winter, another part of PEI untamed!

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