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First part: Species's description

 

Photographers :

John Anderson
John Anderson Photo Galleries

Steve Garvie
RAINBIRDER Photo galleries

Tom Grey
Tom Grey's Bird Pictures

Patrick Ingremeau
TAMANDUA

René Lortie
http://rlortie.ca/

Tom Merigan
Tom Merigan’s Photo Galleries

Yves Thonnérieux
NATUR’AILES

Text by Nicole Bouglouan

Sources :

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Vol 2 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334156

THE HANDBOOK OF BIRD IDENTIFICATION FOR EUROPE AND THE WESTERN PALEARCTIC by Mark Beaman, Steve Madge - C.Helm - ISBN: 0713639601

FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA - National Geographic Society - ISBN: 0792274512

BIRDS OF THE GREAT BASIN – by Fred A. Ryser - Univ of Nevada Pr -ISBN: 0874170796

THE COMPLETE BOOK OF BRITISH BIRDS – Written by “Royal Society for the Protection of Birds” experts - Préface de Magnus Magnusson - Michael Cady- Rob Hume Editors - ISBN: 0749509112

BirdLife International (BirdLife International)

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Nature Works

Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

Animal Diversity Web (University of Michigan Museum of Zoology)

ARKive (Christopher Parsons)

Audubon

XENO-CANTO – Sharing Birds sounds from around the world

 

Home page

Summary articles

 

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FAMILY TETRAONIDAE

Grouses

Second part: Behaviour

 

Grouses have relatively short, rounded wings, allowing them to reach great speeds very quickly. Their take-off is strong and noisy. Then, the flight is performed with rapid wingbeats interspersed with fast glides on down-curved wings.
Grouses are able to take-off rapidly in order to escape from predators. But unfortunately, such rapid take-off makes them attractive for hunters.

Black Grouse

Tetrao tetrix

Female

These flights require high energy investment and for this reason they are often short. They usually are reluctant to take flight. If they are disturbed on the ground, they escape by flying only to a nearby tree or vegetal cover.

The two black grouses fly better than their larger relatives, and are able to cover fairly long distances in a single straight flight, only performed with long glides on spread wings.

Black Grouse

Tetrao tetrix

Male displaying.

It jumps while calling

The forest genera such as Falcipennis, Dendragapus, Bonasa and some Tetrao fly only to ascend or descend from trees for feeding, resting or courting.  
The Lagopus can be good fliers but they prefer to escape on foot.

Red Grouse

Lagopus Scotica

Male

But these terrestrial birds use display flights, as well in territorial activity as in courtship. Even the largest species are able to ascend vertically in a single leap during displays, in the so-called “flutter-flights”.

The mating system of the Tetraonidae includes high frequency of polygyny. Several males compete and display at “leks” or “arenas” which are visited by females.

Black Grouse

Tetrao tetrix

Males displaying at lek

The birds of genera Centrocercus, Tympanuchus and the two black grouses form typical leks. Males gather together and perform their elaborated displays.
Leks are usually found in clearings in forest species, and on hillocks with short grass and good visibility on the surroundings in grassland species. Each male has only a small territory where it displays.

Sage Grouse

Centrocercus urophasianus

Male with puffed out air-sacs

Displays usually take place at dawn and each male defends its small area. The centre of the lek is the more coveted by males, and the first visited by females.

Sage Grouse

Centrocercus urophasianus

Mating

These species have complex and spectacular displays. Males inflate their eye-combs. The prairie-chickens raise their pinnae or elongated neck feathers. The males with cervical sacs puff them out. Ruffs and crest are erect. Wings are dropped until they touch the ground. The tail is cocked to enhance the undertail pattern and the rectrices are shaken while the tail opens and closes abruptly, producing swishing sounds.

Black Grouse

Tetrao tetrix

Male

Males drum the ground with their feet in “foot-stamping”, and runs close to each other. By puffing out their air-sacs, they produce far-carrying, low booming sounds.

Greater Prairie-chicken

Tympanuchus cupido

Male displaying

But when females are approaching, the males jump into the air while calling and fluttering rapidly. But jumps, dances, demonstration flights and strutting displays always are amazing to see.  

Lesser Prairie-chicken

Tympanuchus pallidicinctus

Male jumping

The other genera are usually monogamous or considered intermediate, but their displays are fairly similar.

Ruffed Grouse

Bonasa umbellus

Male displaying

Numerous sounds, noises and calls can be heard while males are displaying.
In addition to be visual signals during courtship, the air-sacs are inflated and produce far-carrying, low booming sounds. Other non-vocal sounds are produced by wings, tail, feet and even bill according to the species. We can hear various hissing, whirring, drumming and swishing sounds.

Western Capercaillie

Tetrao urogallus

SOUNDS BY XENO-CANTO - Western Capercaillie

Calls such as “whoop-calls”, “cackle-calls”, “cork-pop” and hooting are uttered.

Black Grouse

Tetrao tetrix

SOUNDS BY XENO-CANTO - Black Grouse

Females have wider repertoire than males and produce a great variety of calls, usually related to breeding and nesting behaviour. Chicks have very specific calls, a “contact-call” and a “distress-call” and both are immediately answered by their mother. 

Spruce Grouse

Falcipennis canadensis

Female with chick

SOUNDS BY XENO-CANTO - Spruce Grouse

Rock Ptarmigan

Lagopus mutus

SOUNDS BY XENO-CANTO - Rock Ptarmigan

And some others:

SOUNDS BY XENO-CANTO - Sage Grouse

SOUNDS BY XENO-CANTO - Greater Prairie-chicken

SOUNDS BY XENO-CANTO - Ruffed Grouse

The female chooses the male basing herself on visual and audible factors such as beauty of the plumage, vigour of songs and displays, performance during fights in the lek and hierarchy following these confrontations.
She selects the best male, knowing that all the nesting duties will be assumed by her alone. Copulation takes place at lek or at the edge.

Sage Grouse

Centrocercus urophasianus

Mating

The female selects the nest-site. The nest is usually situated on the ground, but the Western Capercaillie and the Hazel Grouse may occasionally use old abandoned nests some metres above the ground.
The nest is well hidden among the thick vegetation, and even partially covered in species living in open areas. Others are close to tree-trunk or stones in forest species. However, such locations provide some visibility to the incubating female.
The nest is a shallow depression with basic lining such as blades of grass, dry leaves, twigs and sometimes feathers.

Rock Ptarmigan

Lagopus mutus

Female and chick

The clutch size ranges from 6-12 eggs depending on the species, but most of them lay 8-10 eggs. Their colour varies but they usually have creamy-buff or yellowish background and dark markings.
The incubation starts once the last egg has been laid. This period lasts from 21 days in Lagopus to 26 days in the Sage Grouse, and is generally longer in the largest species. The incubating female rarely leaves the nest more than 2-3 times a day, often in the early morning and the late evening. Her cryptic plumage provides her an excellent camouflage among the vegetation.

Red Grouse

Lagopus Scotica

Female

However, predation by mammals and Corvids occurs, involving numerous losses.
If a complete brood is lost, females may lay a replacement clutch after a couple of weeks, but smaller than the first one.

Hatching of all the chicks takes one or two days. As soon as the chicks have dried out, they leave the nest and follow their mother. They are highly precocial. They are able to eat on their own and may travel several hundred metres per day, and they can fly up several metres about ten days after hatching. This is a good way to escape from predators and to spend the night in trees instead on the ground.

Spruce Grouse

Falcipennis canadensis

Juvenile

The female leads her brood to areas where the food is abundant. They feed on insects during the first few days. If she gives alarm calls, the brood disperse with chicks running in all directions to hide. She protects them from the climate too, and covers them with her wings to keep them warm.
The chicks grow rapidly and wander farther from their mother while foraging. The family group breaks out when they are three months old.

Spruce Grouse

Falcipennis canadensis

Chick

The grouses are vegetarian except for the few days after hatching during which they feed on insects.
During winter, the two Capercaillies, the Blue Grouse and the Spruce Grousefeed on conifer needles, whereas the Ruffed Grouse feeds on aspens, the Willow Grouse on willows, the Black Grouse on birches and the Sage grouse on Sagebrush.

Ruffed Grouse

Bonasa umbellus

Male in conifer

Conifers are the most important plants during winter, but all the plants, trees or bushes, emerging from the snow layer can provide food to the grouses. They consume mainly the buds of the broad-leaved trees and the needles and buds of the conifers.

Black Grouse

Tetrao tetrix

Male in birch

In spring, they can reach the ground vegetation while the snow is melting, and their diet increases in variety with the early flowers of several species. Then, the fruiting plants give them tender leaves and berries during summer. Arthropods are also taken but in low quantities, except the prairie-chickens which eat many insects, and mainly grasshoppers.

Greater Prairie-chicken

Tympanuchus cupido

Seeds are not eaten, except in prairie-chickens again, especially in winter during which they take sorghum or maize.

Rock Ptarmigan

Lagopus mutus

Male foraging in heather

But the grouses have to adapt their diet to the weather conditions and the distribution. There is a food selection in order to consume the more nutritious parts of the plants.
For these birds living sometimes in harsh weather conditions, the food quality is important for breeding success and population health.

Western Capercaillie - Tetrao urogallus - Male

In spite of several threats such as hunting in the whole range, deforestation, fragmentation and changes in the habitat, disturbances and predation, the Tetraonidae have fairly stable populations.
From BirdLife International and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, out of 18 species, five are Near Threatened (Caucasian and Siberian Grouses, Black Grouse, Severtsov’s Grouse and Sage Grouse), and two are evaluated as Vulnerable (Lesser Prairie-chicken and Greater Prairie-chicken).  

Black Grouse

Tetrao tetrix

Males displaying

Although these species are exploited as gamebirds, hunting has rarely had an excessively negative impact. These birds are able to survive in harsh weather conditions when food resources are scarce.

Rock Ptarmigan

Lagopus mutus

Female resting below the snow cover

On the other hand, the high birth rates maintain stable numbers in most species and allow rapid recoveries in protected areas or during specially extended close seasons. Hunting appears well managed, as conservation of the habitat.

Black Grouse

Tetrao tetrix

Male

However, populations are everywhere in decline. Currently, conservation measures are under way, allowing hope for better future for these so beautiful birds.

Sage Grouse

Centrocercus urophasianus

Female wearing transmitter

First part:

Species's

description

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Sage Grouse

Centrocercus urophasianus

Males fighting