A Spruce Grouse or a Franklin’s Grouse at Peyto Lake, Alberta

First of all, what is the plural of “grouse?” Grouses? Grice? I usually only see one Ruffed Grouse at a time so I’ve never had to work this out before. But when we were walking down the path from the lookout at Peyto Lake in Alberta in August, we saw not one but two birds among the Spruce trees.

Photo of Spruce Grouse Right Face Peyto Lake on naturalcrooksdotcom

Noticeable White Tail Feathers Lead to Some Ptarmigan Confusion

Photo of Spruce Grouse Tail Feathers Peyto Lake on naturalcrooksdotcom
Some of the white tail feathers I noticed.

When I checked previous reports for birds at this Peyto Lake  path, people had reported seeing both Ptarmigan and Grouse. Based on the field guides for Ontario, I had expected Spruce Grouse to have non-white tails. The first field mark I saw on the birds walking away from me on the trail were bright white patches on the tail. That led me to confuse the birds with Ptarmigan until I had a closer look at a field guide.

When Is a Spruce Grouse Called a Franklin’s Grouse?

Photo of Spruce Grouse In Tree Peyto Lake on naturalcrooksdotcom

All of the other features of these birds, from their shape, their heads, their behaviour and their habitat shouted “Spruce Grouse.” So I was reassured to find out that there is a special colour variation of Spruce Grouse in the Canadian Rockies called a Franklin’s Grouse. The most noticeable feature of the Franklin’s Grouse is white markings on the tail.

Photo of Spruce Grouse Left View Peyto Lake on naturalcrooksdotcom

The AllAboutBirds website says that the Franklin’s Grouse is a sub-species.

The Spruce Grouses we saw were in the spruce forest. To my surprise, the Cornell website says these birds actually eat the spruce needles. They must have quite the good digestive system to get at the food value in those prickly short needles!

Photo of Spruce Grouse Camo Peyto Lake on naturalcrooksdotcom
The bird’s camoflage is impressive.

The two birds we saw were either females or juveniles. The colouring of adult males is different.

Photo of Spruce Grouse Left Shoulder Check Peyto Lake on naturalcrooksdotcom

These birds were unconcerned with all the people around them taking their photos. They perched, then gradually wandered off, stopping to preen and feed. I’d read about lost people catching birds with their bare hands: this was the first time I’ve thought that it could easily be true. These birds were unwary enough that a fast person likely could catch one. Fortunately for the birds, the people enjoying the park had no interest in breaking the law or tormenting the wildlife, so the only thing the birds had to tolerate was a lot of nearby chattering and shutters clicking.

Photo of Spruce Grouse Left Peyto Lake on naturalcrooksdotcom

According to the BC Breeding Bird Atlas, in the past Franklin’s Grouse had been considered a separate species from the regular Spruce Grouse. Sub-species or full species, it was a new species for me and I enjoyed my chance to see two so close and so calmly.

Photo of Spruce Grouse White Tail Tips Peyto Lake on naturalcrooksdotcom
Another look at the tail feathers.

Photo of Spruce Grouse White Tail Tips L Peyto Lake on naturalcrooksdotcom
The birds blend in very well when they pick their path between the trees.

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2 thoughts on “A Spruce Grouse or a Franklin’s Grouse at Peyto Lake, Alberta

  1. As a writer, you should know this: mouse – mice, house – hice, therefor grouse – grice. Really. (sigh)

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