Ruffed Grouse are the common ‘game bird’ species in Nova Scotia but they can be surprisingly difficult to see; in fact I had not managed to come across one this year before last Sunday. An exploration of a gravelly track, going inland from Shelburne (and known to us as the Wentworth Lake Road) produced this little family. Male and female Ruffed Grouse are largely plumaged alike, and thus they are difficult to tell apart, except in this case. The male birds take no part in nesting or raising of chicks, so we can be confident that this one is a hen. She was carefully shepherding her brood of five chicks out onto the dusty track in order to take grit from the surface.
Ruffed Grouse are pretty omnivorous, eating seeds, nuts, other plant materials, insects and even small reptiles, where they can get them. The chicks are able to feed themselves from birth, but still need careful guidance from the mother bird while the flight feathers grow (you can see that this process has started in the wing feathers on the chicks). The grit is taken into the birds’ gizzards and, along with the strong muscular action of that organ, helps to grind the harder food items down to a state where they can be absorbed. The grit is continually passed, so the birds need to replenish it, typically twice a day. This can provide great viewing opportunities for this usually shy species.
This family appeared on the track in front of the car and we were able to stop, a safe distance away and watch Mum, and her little bundles of fluff, as they wandered across the road. Mark, of course, took photos and I was able to combine images from a number of them to produce my picture, a process I really enjoy since it allows a little extra creativity in the process!. Incidentally, the birds were pretty safe on the track-on a 5 hour trip we came across only one other vehicle (an ATV) on the entire 20 km stretch.
Example pictures of Mark’s are above.
An ostensibly brown-looking bird, the mother’s plumage is actually gloriously colourful when examined closely and was great fun to paint. Even the chicks had a surprising number of colours in the plumage. This adult bird is clearly on the browner end of the colour scale, which ranges from grey morph to brown morph, with many intergrades.
‘Hen and Chickens’, Ruffed Grouse family, 11 x 14 inch watercolour pencil (Derwent Watercolour, Caran d’Ache Supracolor) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).