Sep 27 2016
Here’s a bird you’ll never see in Pennsylvania.
The spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) is a resident of the northern forest in Canada, Maine, Minnesota and the northern Rockies. Though he resembles our state bird, the ruffed grouse, his diet keeps him north of us.
In winter our ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) eats buds, twigs, catkins, ferns and fruit — easy food to find in Pennsylvania.
Not so the spruce grouse. His winter diet is conifer needles. They’re so hard to digest and he has to eat so many of them to stay alive that his digestive system changes in the fall. According to Cornell’s All About Birds, his “gizzard grows by about 75 percent, and other sections of the digestive tract increase in length by about 40 percent.” Before the snow falls he stocks up on grit so his gizzard can grind up the needles.
In September 2012 Sparky Stensaas found this spruce grouse swallowing road grit and feasting on a tamarack in northern Minnesota. Tamaracks loose their needles in October so the grouse had to eat them right away.
This bird eats spruce needles, too. That’s why he’s a spruce grouse.
Click here to see the video full screen and read Sparky’s description of what this grouse was up to.
(video by Sparky Stensaas)
* Tamaracks are larches, deciduous conifers whose needles turn yellow and drop in the fall.