Grey partridge, Perdix perdix (I) LC

The grey partridge (Perdix perdix), also known as the English partridge, Hungarian partridge, or hun, is a gamebird in the pheasant family Phasianidae of the order Galliformes, gallinaceous birds. The scientific name is the Latin for "partridge", and is itself derived from Ancient Greek perdix. [1]

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge

Widespread and common throughout much of its range, the grey partridge is evaluated as "of Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, it has suffered a serious decline in the UK, and in 2015 appeared on the "Birds of Conservation Concern" Red List.[3] This partridge breeds on farmland across most of Europe into western Asia, and has been introduced widely into Canada, United States, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. [1]

 A popular gamebird in vast areas of North America, it is commonly known as "Hungarian partridge" or just "hun". [1]

The grey partridge is a rotund bird, 28–32 cm (11–13 in) long, brown-backed, with grey flanks and chest. The belly is white, usually marked with a large chestnut-brown horse-shoe mark in males, and also in many females. Hens lay up to twenty eggs in a ground nest. The nest is usually in the margin of a cereal field, most commonly winter wheat. The only major and constant difference between the sexes is the so-called cross of Lorraine on the tertiary coverts of females—these being marked with two transverse bars, as opposed to the one in males. These are present after around 16 weeks of age when the birds have moulted into adult plumage. Young grey partridges are mostly yellow-brown and lack the distinctive face and underpart markings. The song is a harsh kieerr-ik, and when disturbed, like most of the gamebirds, it flies a short distance on rounded wings, often calling rick rick rick as it rises.[1]

They are a seed-eating species, but the young in particular take insects as an essential protein supply. During the first 10 days of life, the young can only digest insects. The parents lead their chicks to the edges of cereal fields, where they can forage for insects. They are also a non-migratory terrestrial species, and form flocks outside the breeding season.  [1]


Ring-necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus (I) LC

It is a well-known gamebird, among those of more than regional importance perhaps the most widespread and ancient one in the whole world. The common pheasant is one of the world's most hunted birds; it has been introduced for that purpose to many regions, and is also common on game farms where it is commercially bred. Ring-necked pheasants in particular are commonly bred and were introduced to many parts of the world; the game farm stock, though no distinct breeds have been developed yet, can be considered semi-domesticated. The ring-necked pheasant is the state bird of South Dakota, one of only three U.S. state birds that is not a species native to the United States. [2]

Ring Necked Pheasant

Male Ring-necked Pheasant

There are many colour forms of the male common pheasant, ranging in colour from nearly white to almost black in some melanistic examples. These are due to captive breeding and hybridization between subspecies and with the green pheasant, reinforced by continual releases of stock from varying sources to the wild. For example, the "ring-necked pheasants" common in Europe, North America and Australia do not pertain to any specific taxon, they rather represent a stereotyped hybrid swarm. Body weight can range from 0.5 to 3 kg (1.1 to 6.6 lb), with males averaging 1.2 kg (2.6 lb) and females averaging 0.9 kg (2.0 lb).[2]

The adult male common pheasant of the nominate subspecies Phasianus colchicus colchicus is 60–89 cm (24–35 in) in length with a long brown streaked black tail, accounting for almost 50 cm (20 in) of the total length. The body plumage is barred bright gold or fiery copper-red and chestnut-brown plumage with irredescent sheen of green and purple; but rump uniform is sometimes blue. The wing coverage is white or cream and black-barred markings are common on the tail. The head is bottle green with a small crest and distinctive red wattle. P. c. colchicus and some other races lack a white neck ring. Behind the face are two ear-tufts, that make the pheasant to alert. [2]

The female (hen) and juveniles are much less showy, with a duller mottled brown plumage all over and measuring 50–63 cm (20–25 in) long including a tail of around 20 cm (7.9 in). Juvenile birds have the appearance of the female with a shorter tail until young males begin to grow characteristic bright feathers on the breast, head and back at about 10 weeks after hatching. [2]

Common pheasants feed solely on the ground in scrapes, lined with some grass and leaves, frequently under dense cover or a hedge. Occasionally they will nest in a haystack, or old nest left by other birds; but they roost in sheltered trees at night. The males are polygynous as is typical for many Phasianidae, and are often accompanied by a harem of several females. Common pheasants nest on the ground, producing a clutch of around 8-15, sometimes as many as 18, but usually 10 to 12 eggs, pale olive in colour, over a 2–3 week period in April to June. The incubation period is about 22–26 or 27 days. The chicks stay near the hen for several weeks, yet leave the nest when only a few hours old. After hatching they grow quickly, flying after 12–14 days, resembling adults by only 15 weeks of age.[2]

They eat a wide variety of animal and vegetable type-food, like fruit, seeds, grain, mast, berries and leaves as well as a wide range of invertebrates, such as leatherjackets, ant eggs, wireworms, caterpillars, grasshoppers and other insects; with small vertebrates like lizards, field voles, small mammals, and small birds occasionally taken. [2]


Ruffed grouse, Bonasa umbellus LC

These chunky, medium-sized birds weigh from 450–750 g (0.99–1.65 lb), measure from 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 in) in length and span 50–64 cm (20–25 in) across their short, strong wings. Ruffed grouse have two distinct morphs, grey and brown. In the grey morph, the head, neck and back are grey-brown; the breast is light with barring. There is much white on the underside and flanks, and overall the birds have a variegated appearance; the throat is often distinctly lighter. The tail is essentially the same brownish grey, with regular barring and a broad black band near the end ("subterminal"). Brown-morph birds have tails of the same color and pattern, but the rest of the plumage is much more brown, giving the appearance of a more uniform bird with less light plumage below and a conspicuously grey tail. There are all sorts of intergrades between the most typical morphs; warmer and more humid conditions favor browner birds in general. [3]

Roughed Grouse Courting

Male Roughed Grouse in Courting Display

 The ruffs are on the sides of the neck in both sexes. They also have a crest on top of their head, which sometimes lies flat. Both genders are similarly marked and sized, making them difficult to tell apart, even in hand. The female often has a broken subterminal tail band, while males tend to have unbroken tail bands, though the opposite of either can occur. Females may also do a display similar to the male. Another fairly accurate sign is that rump feathers with a single white dot indicate a female; rump feathers with more than one white dot indicate a male. [3]

The ruffed grouse differs from other grouse species in its courtship display. Unlike other grouse species, the ruffed grouse relies entirely on a non-vocal acoustic display, known as drumming. The drumming itself is a rapid, wing-beating display that creates a low frequency sound, starting slow and speeding up (thump...thump...thump..thump-thump-thump-thump). Even in thick woods this can be heard for a quarter mile or more (~1/2 km).[3]

The ruffed grouse spends most of its time quietly on the ground, and when surprised, may explode into flight, beating their wings very loudly. In the winter, they will burrow into the snow for warmth, and may suddenly burst out of the snow when approached too closely. [3]

"Hunting of the ruffed grouse is common in the northern and far western United States as well as Canada, Often done with shotguns. Dogs may also be used. Hunting of the ruffed grouse can be challenging. This is because the grouse spends most of its time in thick brush, aspen stands, and second growth pines. It is also very hard to detect a foraging grouse bobbing about in the thicket due to their camouflage. With adequate snow cover they will burrow under the snow. Like other forest creatures, the ruffed grouse will maintain trails through the underbrush and pines. These can often be found by looking for the feathers of the bird on the ground and on twigs at the edges of its trail. Hunting of the ruffed grouse requires a good ear and lots of stamina as you will be constantly walking and listening for them in the leaves." – Joseph B. Barney [3]

Ruffed grouse frequently seek gravel and clover along road beds during early morning and late afternoon. These are good areas to walk during this time to flush birds. Also, grouse use sandy road beds to dust their feathers to rid themselves of skin pests. Dusting sites are visible as areas of disturbed soils with some signs of feathers. Birds will return to these spots during the late afternoon to bathe in dust and to socialize and mate. [3]

The ruffed grouse population has a cycle, and follows the cycle no matter how much or how little hunting there is. The cycle has puzzled scientists for years, and is simply referred to as the "grouse cycle".[3]

Greater sage-grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus NT

The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is the largest grouse in North America. Its range is sagebrush country in the western United States and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan,Canada. It was known as simply the sage grouse until the Gunnison sage-grouse was recognized as a separate species in 2000. [4]

Sage Grouse

Sage Grouse - Males on Leks

The greater sage-grouse is a permanent resident in its breeding grounds but may move short distances to lower elevations during winter. It makes use of a complex lek system in mating and nests on the ground under sagebrush or grass patches. It forages on the ground, mainly eating sagebrush but also other plants and insects. Greater sage-grouse do not have a muscular crop and are not able to digest hard seeds like other grouse. [4]

The species is in decline across its range due to habitat loss and has been recognized as threatened or near threatened by several national and international organizations. [4]

Adult greater sage-grouse have a long, pointed tail and legs with feathers to the toes. The adult male has a yellow patch over each eye, is grayish on top with a white breast, and has a dark brown throat and a black belly; two yellowish sacs on the neck are inflated during courtship display. The adult female is mottled gray-brown with a light brown throat and dark belly. Males average about 6lbs in weight, and females about 3 lbs. [4]

Greater sage-grouse are obligate residents of the sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystem, usually inhabiting sagebrush-grassland or juniper (Juniperus spp.) sagebrush-grassland communities. Meadows surrounded by sagebrush may be used as feeding grounds. Use of meadows with a crown cover of silver sagebrush (A. cana) is especially important in Nevada during the summer. [4]

Greater sage-grouse occur throughout the range of big sagebrush (A. tridentata), except on the periphery of big sagebrush distribution.[6] Greater Sage-Grouse prefer mountain big sagebrush (A. t.ssp. vaseyana) and Wyoming big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. wyomingensis) communities to basin big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. tridentata) communities. [4]

Sagebrush cover types other than big sagebrush can fulfill greater sage-grouse habitat requirements; in fact, the grouse may prefer other sagebrush cover types to big sagebrush. Greater sage-grouse in Antelope Valley, California, for example, use black sagebrush (A. nova) cover types more often than the more common big sagebrush cover types. Hens with broods on the National Antelope Refuge in Oregon were most frequently found (54–67% of observations) in low sagebrush (A. arbuscula) cover.Desert shrub habitat may also be used by greater sage-grouse. [4]

Sagebrush communities supporting greater sage-grouse include silver sagebrush and fringed sagebrush (A. frigida).[4]

Their historic range spanned 16 American states and Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan in Canada. Between 1988 and 2012, the population declined by 98%.] By 2012, they were extirpated from British Columbia and left with only remnant populations in Alberta with 40 to 60 adult birds, and in Saskatchewan with only 55 to 80 adult birds. By 2013, sage grouse were also extirpated from five U.S. states.  In 2013, the Canadian Governor in Council on behalf of the Minister of the Environment, under the Species at Risk Act, annexed an emergency order for the protection of the greater sage-grouse. [4]

Greater sage-grouse are notable for their elaborate courtship rituals. Each spring, males congregate in leks and perform a "strutting display". Groups of females observe these displays and select the most attractive males with which to mate. The dominant male located in the center of the lek typically copulates with around 80% of the females on the lek. Males perform in leks for several hours in the early morning and evening during the spring. Video Males gather in leks to court, usually in late February to April. Only a few dominant males, usually two, breed. Sage grouse mating behaviors are complex. After mating, the hen leaves the lek for the nesting grounds. [4]

Open areas such as swales, irrigated fields, meadows, burns, roadsides, and areas with low, sparse sagebrush cover are used as leks  Of 45 leks, 11 were on windswept ridges or exposed knolls, 10 were in flat sagebrush, seven were in bare openings, and the remaining 17 were on various other site types. Leks are usually surrounded by areas with 20 to 50% sagebrush cover, with sagebrush no more than 1 ft (30.5 cm) tall. [4]

Nest selection

Greater sage-grouse disperse to areas surrounding the leks for nesting. In a study of habitat selection by male greater sage grouse in central Montana during breeding season, sagebrush height and canopy cover at 110 daytime feeding and loafing sites of cocks were recorded About 80% of the locations occurred in sagebrush with a canopy cover of 20–50%. In another Montana study, sagebrush cover averaged 30% on a cock-use area, and no cocks were observed in areas of less than 10% canopy cover. [4]

Some females probably travel between leks. In Mono County, California, the home range of marked females during one month of the breeding season was 750 to 875 acres (300–350 ha), enough area to include several active leks.[4]

Within a week to ten days following breeding, the hen builds a nest in the vicinity of the lek. Hens usually nest near the lekking grounds, but some hens have been noted to fly as far as 20 miles (32 km) to favorable nesting sites. [4]

Quality of nesting habitat surrounding the lek is the most important factor in population success. Adequacy of cover is critical for nesting. Too little can exist: where 13% was the average total crown cover on Idaho range, nests were located where average cover was 17%. No hens nested in the most arid, open areas with less than 10% total shrub cover. Too much also can occur: average shrub cover at 87 nest sites was 18.4%, and in more dense cover, greater sage-grouse did not nest where total shrub cover was greater than 25%. In Utah, no nests occurred where threetip sagebrush cover exceeded 35%. [4]

Sagebrush forms the nesting cover for most greater sage-grouse nests throughout the West, with concealment being the basic requirement. Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.) is occasionally used for nesting cover with greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus) and shadscale (Atriplex canescens) being rarely used. [4]

Greater sage-grouse prefer relatively tall sagebrush with an open canopy for nesting. In Utah, 33% of 161 nests were under silver sagebrush that was 14 to 25 in (36–63 cm) tall, while big sagebrush of the same height accounted for 24% of nests.[10] In a threetip sagebrush (A. tripartata) habitat averaging 8 in (20 cm) in height, hens selected the tallest plants for nesting cover. Similarly in Wyoming, 92% of nests in Wyoming big sagebrush were in areas where vegetation was 10 to 20 in (25–51 cm) tall and cover did not exceed 50%.[4]

Brood rearing

Clutch size ranges from six to eight eggs; incubation time is 25 to 27 days. Greater sage-grouse apparently have high rates of nest desertion and nest predation. Data from several sage grouse studies indicate a range of nesting success from 23.7 to 60.3%, with predation accounting for 26 to 76% of lost nests. [4]

Chicks fly by two weeks of age, although their movements are limited until they are two to three weeks old. They can sustain flight by five to six weeks of age. Juveniles are relatively independent by the time they have completed their first molt at 10 to 12 weeks of age.[4]



The importance of sagebrush in the diet of adult greater sage-grouse is great; numerous studies have documented its year-round use. A Montana study, based on 299 crop samples, showed that 62% of total food volume of the year was sagebrush. Between December and February, it was the only food item found in all crops. Only between June and September did sagebrush constitute less than 60% of their diet Sage grouse select sagebrush species differentially. Greater sage-grouse in Antelope Valley, California, browsed black sagebrush more frequently than the more common big sagebrush. The browse of black sagebrush is highly preferred by greater sage-grouse in Nevada. In southeastern Idaho, black sagebrush was preferred as forage. [4]

Among the big sagebrush subspecies, basin big sagebrush is less nutritious and higher in terpenes than either mountain or Wyoming big sagebrush. Sage grouse prefer the other two subspecies to basin big sagebrush. In a common garden study done in Utah, greater sage-grouse preferred mountain big sagebrush over Wyoming and basin big sagebrush. However, when leaves and buds of the preferred species became limited, the birds shifted to the lesser-liked plants. The birds, while expressing preference, are capable of shifting their eating habits.[4]

Sage grouse lack a muscular gizzard and cannot grind and digest seeds; they must consume soft-tissue foods.  Apart from sagebrush, the adult diet consists largely of herbaceous leaves, which are used primarily in late spring and summer. Additionally, greater sage-grouse use perennial bunchgrasses for food. [4]

Sage grouse are highly selective grazers, choosing only a few plant genera. Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.), legumes (Fabaceae), yarrow (Achillea spp.) and wild lettuce (Lactuca spp.) account for most of their forb intake. From July to September, dandelion comprised 45% of forb intake; sagebrush comprised 34%. Collectively, dandelion, sagebrush, and two legume genera (Trifolium and Astragalus) contributed more than 90% of the greater sage-grouse diet. Insects are a minor diet item for adults. Insects comprised 2% of the adult diet in spring and fall and 9% in summer. Sagebrush made up 71% of the year-round diet. [4]


Willow Ptarmigan, Lagopus lagopus LC

The willow ptarmigan is a medium to large ground-dwelling bird and is the most numerous of the three species of ptarmigan. Males and females are about the same size, the adult length varying between 35 and 44 centimetres (14 and 17 in) with a wingspan ranging from 60 and 65 centimetres (24 and 26 in). The weight is 430 to 810 grams (15 to 29 oz). It is deep-chested and has a fairly long neck, a broad bill, short feathered legs and a moderately short rounded tail. In the summer, the male's plumage is marbled brown, with a reddish hue to the neck and breast, a black tail and white wings and underparts. It has two inconspicuous wattles above the eyes, which become red and prominent in the breeding season. The female is similar in appearance but lacks the wattles and has brown feathers scattered among the white feathers on the belly. During winter, the plumage of both sexes becomes completely white, except for some black feathers in the tail. Immature birds resemble the adults. [5]

Willow Ptarmigan

Willow Ptarmigan

The willow ptarmigan can be distinguished from the closely related rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) by its larger size and thicker bill and by the fact that it is not generally found above the tree line while the rock ptarmigan prefers more elevated, barren habitat. The summer plumage is browner and in the winter, the male willow ptarmigan lacks the rock ptarmigan's black stripe between the eyes and bill. The white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura) in North America is smaller, has a white tail and finely-barred greyer plumage and lives permanently above the tree line. The distinctive British Isles subspecies L. l. scoticus (red grouse) was once considered a separate true British species but is now classified as a sub-species. This moorland bird is reddish brown all over, except for its white feet. [5]

The voice is low-pitched and guttural and includes chuckles, repeated clucking sounds, expostulations. When displaying, the male makes rattles and barking noises. The willow ptarmigan has a circum-boreal distribution. It is native to Canada and the United States, China, Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain. It primarily occupies subalpine and subarctic habitats such as sparse pine and birch forests, thickets with willow and alder trees, heather moors, tundra and mountain slopes. In the winter, females and sub-adults may move to lower altitudes and seek shelter in valleys or in more densely vegetated areas, but adult males usually remain in the subalpine region. The red grouse is common on heather-clad moorland across the north and west of Great Britain and in localised areas of Ireland. [5]

The willow ptarmigan has a varied and seasonal diet. The bird is herbivorous for most of its life and subsists on various plant materials. As juveniles, they may feed on insects due to an inability to digest plant material caused by underdeveloped cecums. In the summer, their diet is highly varied and may consist of berries, flowers, leaves, twigs and seeds.[5]

In Alaska, the main dietary item of the adults at all times of year is willows such as the Alaska willow Salix alaxensis, with leaves being eaten in summer and buds, twigs and catkins supplying the birds' main nutritional needs in winter and early spring. In the early twenty-first century, there has been an increase in shrub expansion in arctic Alaska that is thought to be greatly affecting the willow ptarmigan’s winter diet. Because of the way they browse, Ptarmigan help shape the landscape of the area. After heavy snowfalls, the birds cannot access the shorter shrubs as they are blanketed with snow, so they will eat the taller species that poke through. In one study it was found that 90% of the buds of the Alaska willow within their reach had been browsed. This will stunt the willows and create a feedback cycle extending through the entire ecosystem. However, in winters with below average snowfall, the browsing of Ptarmigans will not have such a drastic effect as their feeding will be spread out across a range of lower plant species. It is also believed that the greening of parts of the Arctic is affecting Willow Ptarmigan populations by altering the shape and size of the shrubs they are able to feed on. [5]

Male willow ptarmigans are territorial birds. Males arrive in the breeding areas and set up territories in April and May, aggressively defending them against male interlopers. When the females arrive a few weeks later, the male performs courtship displays such as aerial manoeuvres, strutting and tail-fanning. When she has chosen a mate and a nesting site, the female lays a clutch of six to ten eggs in a shallow depression on the ground. The nest site is usually in a hidden location at the edge of a clearing.[5]

A small minority of male willow ptarmigan are polygynous but most are monogamous. They are assiduous at guarding both nest and mate, particularly early in the incubation period and when the eggs are nearly ready to hatch. During this time, the greatest danger may be from conspecifics. Although adult willow ptarmigans are herbivores, the newly hatched young also feed on insects. In most other species of grouse, only the female takes care of the young, but the male willow ptarmigan also helps with feeding the brood and protecting them. He may take over completely if the female dies. In particular, the male defends the young from predators and both he and his mate can dive-bomb intruders or lure attackers away by pretending to have a broken wing. Nevertheless, the chicks face many dangers which range from attacks by foxes or birds of prey, getting separated from the rest of the brood, bad weather and coccidiosis. Fewer than 35% of chicks survive to eleven months and only a minority of these reach maturity. Despite this, in favourable seasons, many juveniles may survive and the population of willow ptarmigan is prone to wide fluctuations in size. By September, families begin to form flocks. The females and young migrate to lower altitudes and may overwinter 100 miles (160 km) from their breeding grounds in wooded valleys and hilly country. The males also congregate in small groups but do not usually travel as far as the females.[5]

Rock ptarmigan, Lagopus muta LC

The rock ptarmigan is 34–36 cm (13–14 in) long (tail 8 cm (3.1 in)) with a wingspan of 54–60 cm (21–24 in). It is smaller than the willow ptarmigan by about 10%. The male's "song" is a loud croaking.[6]

The rock ptarmigan is seasonally camouflaged; its feathers moult from white in winter to brown in spring or summer. The breeding male has greyish upper parts with white wings and under parts. In winter, its plumage becomes completely white except for the black tail. It can be distinguished from the winter willow ptarmigan (willow ptarmigan in North America) by habitat—the rock ptarmigan prefers higher elevations and more barren habitat; it is also smaller with a more delicate bill.[6]

Rock Ptarmigan

Rock Ptarmigan

The rock ptarmigan is a sedentary species which breeds across arctic and subarctic Eurasia and North America (including Greenland) on rocky mountainsides and tundra. It is widespread in theArctic Cordillera and is found in isolated populations in the mountains of Scotland, the Pyrenees, the Alps, Bulgaria, the Urals, the Pamir Mountains, the Altay Mountains, and Japan—where it occurs only in the Japan Alps and on Hakusan mountain. Because of the remote habitat in which it lives, it has only a few predators—such as golden eagles—and it can be surprisingly approachable. [6]

During the last ice age, the species was far more widespread in continental Europe.[6]

The rock ptarmigan feeds primarily on birch and willow buds and catkins when available. It also eats various seeds, leaves, flowers, and berries of other plant species. Insects are eaten by the developing young. [6]

Apart from the comb, the male rock ptarmigan has no ornaments or displays that are typical for grouses in temperate regions. Studies on other grouses have shown that much variation in comb size and colour exists between the species, and that the comb is used in courtship display and aggressive interactions between males. Many studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between the comb size and the level of testosterone in males; one report from 1981 showed that the amount of testosterone is correlated to aggressiveness against other males.[6]

The male's comb has been the focus of studies regarding sexual selection. Studies of a population of male rock ptarmigans in Scarpa Lake, Nunavut, have shown that during the first year, mating success among males was influenced by comb size and condition, and bigamous males had larger combs than monogamous males. The correlation to size disappeared after the first year, but the correlation to comb condition remained. This is consistent with another study of the same population of L. muta that showed that mating success overall is correlated to comb condition. Exceptions were first-time breeders, in which the size of the comb influenced mating success.[6]

The rock ptarmigan becomes sexually mature at six months of age and commonly has up to six chicks. Because of this high breeding rate, the size of the population is affected very little by factors such as hunting.[6]

White-tailed ptarmigan, Lagopus leucura LC

The white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura), also known as the snow quail, is the smallest bird in the grouse family. It is a permanent resident of high altitudes on or above the tree line and is native to Alaska and the mountainous parts of Canada and the western United States. It has also been introduced into the Sierra Nevada in California, the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon and the Uinta Mountains in Utah. Its plumage is cryptic and varies at different times of the year. In the summer it is speckled in gray, brown and white whereas in winter it is wholly white. At all times of year the wings, belly and tail are white. The white-tailed ptarmigan has a diet of buds, leaves, flowers and seeds. The nest is a simple depression in the ground in which up to 8 eggs are laid. After hatching, the chicks soon leave the nest. At first they eat insects but later move on to an adult diet, their mother using vocalisations to help them find suitable plant food. The population seems to be stable and the IUCN lists this species as being of "Least Concern". [7]

White Tailed Ptarmigan

White Tailed Ptarmigan

The white-tailed ptarmigan is the smallest of the ptarmigans and the smallest bird in the grouse family. It is a stocky bird with rounded wings, square-ended tail, small black beak and short legs with feathering extending to the toes. Adults are 11.8 to 12.2 inches (30 to 31 cm) long, with the males being only slightly larger than the females. The average weight is 11.6 to 16.9 ounces (330 to 480 g). During the summer, the white-tailed ptarmigan is a speckled grayish brown with white underparts, tail and wings. In the fall, the plumage has turned a much more reddish-brown color and white feathers begin to grow through. By winter all the summer brown feathers are lost and the bird is completely white. A further molt in the spring precedes the breeding season and the bird returns to its summer plumage. The finely-barred greyish coloration on the back makes it easy to distinguish this species from the much browner willow ptarmigan and rock ptarmigan. Both sexes maintain white tail and wing feathers all the year and males can be identified by their reddish eyecombs (fleshy growths above the eye), also present year-long.[In general this bird is silent but it sometimes makes quiet, low-pitched hoots and soft clucking noises.[7]

The white-tailed ptarmigan is an alpine species, a permanent resident of the high mountains above or near the timber line. It occupies open country and flies a great deal more than forest grouse, but still prefers running to flying. It ranges from Alaska and western Canada south to northern New Mexico. Males return from their wintering areas to establish territories on spruce-willow timber line breeding grounds in April. Females arrive in early May and pairs are formed. [7]

The white-tailed ptarmigan is the only bird in North America to reside permanently in the alpine zone. Its habitat includes areas of boulders, krummholz, snowfields, rock slides, frost-heaved soil and upland herbage. Even in winter it stays in high valleys and mountain slopes where alder, willow, birch and spruce poke through the snow cover. [7]

This herbivorous bird's diet varies seasonally. Nitrogen-rich snow buttercup leaves are favored in the spring season, while willow catkins, mountain avens flowers, and chickweed blooms, other flowers and leaves, lichens and berries form the majority of the ptarmigan's diet in the summer. Once fall and winter arrive in the region, the ptarmigan feeds on pine needles, seeds, willow and alder buds and twigs. Winter food sources have a much higher cellulose content than does summer forage, so the ptarmigan relies on bacteria-aided digestion in the cecum to extract essential nutrients. During the summer, the ptarmigan eats grit to assist in digesting plant material. [7]

White-tailed ptarmigan males are usually monogamous and remain with the same mate for one breeding season. To attract females, a male will strut and display his tail feathers. The female builds a simple scrape nest on the ground, while the male acts as a sentry to guard the area. The nest is a shallow depression in a snow-free area, generally protected from the wind and is softened with grasses and a few feathers. One side of the nest generally provides a quick escape route. [7]

A clutch consists of two to eight eggs, which retain a cinnamon color for most of the incubation period, but develop brown spots when they are nearly ready to hatch. Males remain in the vicinity of the nest until the eggs hatch, a period of about 23 days. The precocial young leave the nest six to twelve hours after hatching. They are at first covered with down but become fully fledged in seven to ten days. [7]

Ptarmigan chicks begin their lives eating insects. Once the chicks' digestive tracts and ceca are more fully developed, their diets shift to one of flowers and leaves. Hens choose foraging patches where plant species containing proteins are abundant. The hens call their chicks to these plants, which are critical for the growth and development of the chicks. This suggests that the hens' food calls assist in enhancing survival rates of juvenile ptarmigans. The young birds remain with their mother throughout the summer and autumn season. [7]

The white-tailed ptarmigan has feathers located on its feet to serve as protection from the extreme cold often experienced in the alpine tundra environment. In addition, these birds have feathers around their nostrils to warm the air prior to entry into the respiratory tract. The most obvious adaptation is this bird's cryptic coloration, which enables it to blend in with its environment and avoid predation by golden eagles or other birds of prey. To conserve energy during the winter months, the ptarmigan avoids flight as much as possible and roosts in snowbanks. [7]

The white-tailed ptarmigan is listed as being of "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is because, although populations may be in slight decline, its range is too wide and the total number of birds too large to fit the criteria for being listed as "Vulnerable".[1] This bird serves as an indicator species for the alpine tundra, and denotes overall ecosystem health. It is not a conservation concern and is abundant in alpine zones across North America, indicating that this region is not undergoing dramatic climatic, temperature, or precipitation shifts. The lack of overgrazing by cattle, the lack of human development in alpine zones, the difficulty in accessing its remote habitat, the low densities at which it occurs and the laws regarding the limits to hunting bags allow the white-tailed ptarmigan to thrive. [7]

Spruce grouse, Falcipennis canadensis LC

The spruce grouse, Canada grouse, or Trail Chicken (Falcipennis canadensis) is a medium-sized grouse closely associated with the coniferous boreal forests or taiga of North America. It is one of the most arboreal grouse, fairly well adapted to perching and moving about in trees. When approached by a predator, it relies on camouflage and immobility to an amazing degree, for example letting people come to within a few feet before finally taking flight, a behavior that has earned it the nickname "fool's hen".[8]

Male Spruce Grouse

Male Spruce Grouse

Spruce grouse are 38–43 cm (15–17 in) long; males weigh 550–650 g (19–23 oz) and females 450–550 g (16–19 oz). Races vary slightly in plumage, especially in the tail pattern and in the extent of white on the underparts, but in general adult males are mainly grey above and black below, with white spots along the side, and a red patch of bare skin over the eye. Adult females are mottled brown (red morph) or mottled grey (grey morph) with dark and white bars on the underparts. Juveniles resemble females. Females may be confused with ruffed grouse but they have a dark tail with a pale band at the end (while the reverse is true in ruffed grouse) and they do not erect their crown feathers when alarmed the way ruffed grouse do. [8]

As a specialist of the taiga, the spruce grouse is found throughout Canada. In the United States, it is present in Alaska, northern New England, northern Michigan, northeastern Minnesota, and the montane coniferous forests of Montana, Idaho, and Washington. [8]

Spruce grouse are always associated with conifer-dominated forests, be they pine, spruce, or fir. They seem to prefer young successional stands. In summer they can be found near rich understory of blueberries and other shrub, and in winter they prefer denser stands. [8]

The staple food is conifer needles, clipped directly from the tree, preferably the midcrown of pines though other conifers are exploited as well. In summer the birds can also forage on the ground, eating berries, green plants, fungi, and some insects. In winter, when only needles are consumed, the caeca (dead-end extensions of the intestines) increase in size to support digestion. The crop is also well developed: up to 45 cc of needles (about 10% of body mass) can be stored in the crop at the end of the day, to be digested over the duration of the night fast. Like other birds, spruce grouse consume grit or small stones to help their gizzard break down food. Chicks under 1-week old feed on insects and other arthropods, then switch to berries and fungi until the fall, when they start feeding on needles. [8]

Males are promiscuous; they disperse and advertise a territory that is visited by females for mating. Females are solely responsible for the rest of the reproductive effort though males have been known to stay with young chicks and seem to aid in keeping the brood together. For a nest, they scratch a depression in the ground in a bush or under a low-lying coniferous branch or fallen tree, away from other females and from the males' territories. The nest is lined with grasses, leaves, and a few feathers. Nesting season is from early May to early July. Up to 10 eggs may be laid, the usual number being 4-7. Laying rate is 1 egg every 1.4 days. Eggs are about 40 mm in length (1.5 inches) and are tawny olive or buff, marked with blotches of brown. Incubation begins with the last egg laid and lasts about 24 days. Young are about 15 g at hatching (0.5 ounces) and they are precocial; they walk out of the nest as soon as they are dry (about 8 h after hatching). They are capable of fluttering up from the ground at 1 week of age. The brood stays together and is accompanied by the hen, who broods them all night and frequently during the day until the young are 3–5 weeks old. Brooding behaviour of the female seems to be initiated by specific calls from the chicks when they are cold. At 70–100 days of age, chicks tend to leave the group and become independent. Females breed only once a year. Most females first breed at 1 year of age, but about half the males delay establishing a territory until 2 years. The species' lifespan appears to be about 5–6 years in the wild, though one study in Southwestern Alberta has found two males and one female that lived to be at least 13 years old.[8]


Dusky grouse, Dendragapus obscurus LC

The dusky grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) is a species of forest-dwelling grouse native to the Rocky Mountains in North America. It is closely related to the sooty grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus), and the two were previously considered a single species, the blue grouse. [9]

Adults have a long square tail, gray at the end. Adult males are mainly dark with a purplish throat air sac surrounded by white, and a yellow to red wattle over the eye during display. Adult females are mottled brown with dark brown and white marks on the underparts. [9]

Dusky Grouse

Dusky Grouse

Their breeding habitat is the edges of conifer and mixed forests in mountainous regions of western North America, from southeastern Alaska and Yukon south to New Mexico. Their range is closely associated with that of various conifers. Their nest is a scrape on the ground concealed under a shrub or log. [9]

They are permanent residents but move short distances by foot and short flights to denser forest areas in winter, with the odd habit of moving to higher altitudes in winter. [9]

These birds forage on the ground, or in trees in winter. In winter, they mainly eat fir and douglas-fir needles, occasionally also hemlock and pine needles; in summer, other green plants (Pteridium,Salix), berries (Gaultheria, Mahonia, Rubus, Vaccinium), and insects (particularly ants, beetles, grasshoppers) are more important. Chicks are almost entirely dependent on insect food for their first ten days. [9]

Males sing with deep hoots on their territory and make short flapping flights to attract females. Females leave the male's territory after mating. [9]


Sooty grouse, Dendragapus fuliginosus LC

The sooty grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus) is a species of forest-dwelling grouse native to North America's Pacific Coast Ranges. It is closely related to the dusky grouse (Dendragapus obscurus), and the two were previously considered a single species, the blue grouse [10]

Adults have a long square tail, light gray at the end. Adult males are mainly dark with a yellow throat air sac surrounded by white, and a yellow wattle over the eye during display. Adult females are mottled brown with dark brown and white marks on the underparts. [10]

Sooty Grouse

Sooty Grouse

Their breeding habitat is the edges of conifer and mixed forests in mountainous regions of western North America, from southeastern Alaska and Yukon south toCalifornia.Their range is closely associated with that of various conifers. The nest is a scrape on the ground concealed under a shrub or log. [10]

They are permanent residents but move short distances by foot and short flights to denser forest areas in winter, with the odd habit of moving to higher altitudes in winter. [10]

These birds forage on the ground, or in trees in winter. In winter, they mainly eat fir and douglas-fir needles, occasionally also hemlock and pine needles; in summer, other green plants (Pteridium, Salix), berries (Gaultheria, Mahonia, Rubus, Vaccinium), and insects (particularly ants, beetles, grasshoppers) are more important. Chicks are almost entirely dependent on insect food for their first ten days.[10]

Males sing with deep hoots on their territory and make short flapping flights to attract females. Females leave the male's territory after mating.

Sharp-tailed grouse, Tympanuchus phasianellus LC

The sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) (previously: Tetrao phasianellus), is a medium-sized prairie grouse. It is also known as the sharptail, and is known as "fire grouse" or "fire bird" by Native American Indians due to their reliance on brush fires to keep their habitat open. [11]

Adults have a relatively short tail with the two central (deck) feathers being square-tipped and somewhat longer than their lighter, outer tail feathers giving the bird its distinctive name. The plumage is mottled dark and light browns against a white background, they are lighter on the underparts with a white belly uniformly covered in faint "V"-shaped markings. These markings distinguish sharp-tailed grouse from lesser and greater prairie chickens which are heavily barred on their underparts(Connelly et al. 1998). Adult males have a yellow comb over their eyes and a violet display patch on their neck. This display patch is another distinguishing characteristic from prairie chickens as male prairie chickens have yellow or orange colored air sacs(Connelly et al. 1998). The female is smaller than the male and can be distinguished by the regular horizontal markings across the deck feathers as opposed to the irregular markings on the males deck feathers which run parallel to the feather shaft. Females also tend to have less obvious combs. Males weigh an average of 33.5 oz (951 g) and females average 29 oz (815 g). [11]

Sharp Tailed Grouse

Sharp Tailed Grouse

Sharp-tailed grouse historically occupied eight Canadian provinces and 21 U.S. states pre-European settlement (Johnsgard 2002). They ranged from as far north as Alaska, south to California and New Mexico, and east to Quebec, Canada (Johnsgard 2002). Following European settlement the sharp-tailed grouse has been extirpated from California, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Nevada, and New Mexico, (Johnsgard 1973; Connelly et al. 1998).[11]

These birds forage on the ground in summer, in trees in winter. They eat seeds, buds, berries, forbs, and leaves, also insects, especially grasshoppers, in summer. [11]

The sharp-tailed grouse is a lekking bird species. These birds display in open areas known as leks with other males, anywhere from a single male to upwards of 20 will occupy one lek (averaging 8-12). A lek is defined as an assembly area where animals carry on display and courtship behavior (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2010). During the spring, male sharp-tailed grouse attend these leks from March through July with peak attendance in late April, early May (Conelly et al. 1998). These dates do fluctuate from year to year based on the weather. Johnsgard (2002) observed weather delayed lekking of up to two weeks by sharp-tailed grouse in North Dakota. The males display on the lek by stamping their feet rapidly, about 20 times per second, and rattle their tail feathers while turning in circles or dancing forward. Purple neck sacs are inflated and deflated during display. The males use "cooing" calls also to attract and compete for females (Sisson 1969; Bergerud and Gratson 1988; Conelly et al. 1998). The females select the most dominant one or two males in the center of the lek, copulate, and then leave to nest and raise the young in solitary from the male. Occasionally a low-rank male may disguise himself as a female and walk to where the dominant male is and fight him. [11]

The sharp-tailed grouse is found throughout different prairie ecosystems in North America. They inhabit ecosystems from the pine savannahs of the eastern upper Midwest to the short grass, mid grass, and shrub steppe prairies of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West (Aldrich 1963; Johnsgard 1973; Johnsgard 2002). Selection of specific habitat characteristics and vegetation communities is variable among the different subspecies of sharp-tailed grouse. Selection of these specific habitats depends on the quality of habitat available to grouse (Johnsgard 1973; Kohn 1976; Swenson 1985; Roersma 2001; Goddard et al. 2009). The major habitats used by sharp-tailed grouse, recorded in the literature, are savannah style prairie with grasses dominant and shrub patches mixed throughout, with minimal patches of trees (Hammerstrom 1963; Robel 1972; Moyles 1981; Johnsgard 2002; Goddard et al. 2009). In fact, Hammerstrom (1963) states the taller the woody vegetation, the less of it there should be in the habitat. The savannah style habitat is mostly preferred during the summer and brood rearing months through autumn. This general habitat is used during all four seasons for different features. Habitat selection and usage vary by season with; lekking, nesting, brood rearing, and winter habitat selected and utilized differently. [11]

The lek, or dancing ground is, usually made up of short, relatively flat native vegetation (Manske and Barker 1987; Hanowski et al. 2000). Other habitat types utilized for leks are cultivated lands, recent burns, mowed sites, grazed hill tops, and wet meadows (Ammann 1957; Kobriger 1965; and Johnsgard 1973; Johnsgard 2002). Manske and Barker (1987) reported sun sedge (Carex inops), needle and thread grass (Hesperostipa comata), and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) on lekking grounds in the Sheyenne National Grassland in North Dakota. The males also select for upland or midland habitat type on the tops of ridges or hills (Manske and Barker 1987). Leks surrounded by high residual vegetation were observed by Kirsch et al. (1973). They noticed lek distribution was influenced by the amount of tall residual vegetation adjacent to the lek. Lek sites eventually became abandoned if vegetation structure was allowed to get too high. The invasion of woody vegetation and trees into lekking arenas also caused displaying males to abandon leks (Moyles 1981; Swenson 1985). Moyles (1981) observed an inverse relationship of lek attendance by males with an increase in quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) within 0.8 km of arenas in the Alberta parklands. Berger and Baydack (1992) also observed a similar trend in aspen encroachment where 50% (7 of 14) of leks were abandoned when aspen coverage increased to over 56 percent of the total area within 1 km of the lek. Males select hilltops, ridges, or any place with a good field of view for leks. So they can see the surrounding displaying males, approaching females to the dancing ground, and predators (Sisson 1969; Manske and Barker1987; Johnsgard 2002). [11]

Nesting cover is one of the most important habitat types needed by sharp-tailed grouse hens. Nesting habitat varies widely among the different subspecies of sharp-tailed grouse (Roersma 2001). Hamerstrom Jr. (1939) found the majority of prairie sharp-tailed grouse (T.p.campestris) nests occupyied dense brush and woods at marsh edges. Gieson and Connelly (1993) reported that Colombian sharp-tailed grouse (T.p.columbianus) selected for dense shrub stands with taller, denser shrubs located at the nest site. Plains sharp-tailed grouse (T.p.jamesii) selected nest sites with dense residual vegetation and a shrubby component (Kirby and Grosz 1995;Roersma 2001). However, nest sites are usually characterized by dense tall residual vegetation (last year’s growth) with the presence of woody vegetation either at the nest site or nearby (Manske and Barker 1987; Prose et al. 2002). Goddard et al. (2009) state that the use of shrub dominated habitats has not been documented by many other researchers. Goddard et al. (2009) found that sharp-tailed grouse hens in Alberta, Canada selected more for shrub steppe habitats in their first nest attempts because of increased concealment provided by the shrubs than the residual grass earlier in the breeding season. Roersma (2001) also found that grouse in southern Alberta selected taller, woody vegetation compared to all other habitats assessed, and grouse used this area in greater proportions to available woody habitat. These findings contradict Prose et al. (2002), who states that residual vegetation is critical to sharp-tailed grouse nest success due to the early seasonal nesting nature of the grouse. [11]

Habitat fragmentation has been one of factors driving the decline of all subspecies of sharp-tailed grouse across its entire range throughout North America (Silvy and Hagen 2004). The type of habitat fragmentation varies from ecological succession, as shrub/grassland areas transition into forested areas. Fire suppression, tree plantings, limiting logging practices, and an increase of invasive woody species have also led to habitat fragmentation. The largest contributor to habitat fragmentation has been the agriculture industry. [11]

The Homestead Act 1862 opened up great expanses of virgin prairie in the west to early settlers. By 1905 about 41 million hectares of the west had been homesteaded (Olsen 1997). Much of this land was in semi-arid rangelands with sub-marginal precipitation to support crop production (Olsen 1997). The plowing of this land represented a permanent change in the nature of the land. Another contributor to habitat fragmentation for grouse is unmonitored and excessive cattle grazing (Kirsch et al. 1973; Giesen and Connelly 1993; Kirby and Grosz 1995; Reece et al. 2001; Sidle 2005). Cattle can be an important tool to manage habitat structure for sharp-tailed grouse when managed properly (Evens 1968; Kirby and Grosz 1995; Sidle 2005). The habitat of sharp-tailed grouse was severely affected by early settlers before cattle grazers understood the impact to the environment from overgrazing. [11]

A secondary effect of early agriculture during the years of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s was when homesteaders abandoned the unproductive land (Olsen 1997). The United States government bought up much of this land through the Land Utilization Program, with management eventually controlled by the United States Forest service and the Bureau of Land Management (Wooten 1965; Olsen 1997). During the drought years of the 1930s, these agencies re-vegetated some of these areas with non-native highly competitive vegetation such as smooth brome (Bromus inermis) and crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) (USDA- US Forest service 2001). These plants served their purpose by re-vegetating and protecting the soil. But these invaders became great competitors and directly affected native vegetation. In some instances crested wheatgrass and smooth brome have forced out native vegetation, creating monoculture habitats. Monoculture habitats are not favored by sharp-tailed grouse, as they prefer sites with high heterogeneity. Hamerstrom (1939) was quoted as saying "More important than the individual cover plants is the fact that most of the nests of all species were in cover mixtures rather than pure stands." [11]


Wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo LC

The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is an upland ground bird native to North America and is the heaviest member of the diverse Galliformes. It is the same species as the domestic turkey, which was originally derived from a southern Mexican subspecies of wild turkey (not the related ocellated turkey). Although native to North America, the turkey probably got its name from the domesticated variety being imported to Britain in ships coming from the Levant via Spain. The British at the time therefore associated the wild turkey with the country Turkey and the name prevails. [12]

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Adult wild turkeys have long reddish-yellow to grayish-green legs. The body feathers are generally blackish and dark, sometimes grey brown overall with a coppery sheen that becomes more complex in adult males. Adult males, called toms or gobblers, have a large, featherless, reddish head, red throat, and red wattles on the throat and neck. The head has fleshy growths called caruncles. Juvenile males are called jakes; the difference between an adult male and a juvenile is that the jake has a very short beard and his tail fan has longer feathers in the middle. The adult male's tail fan feathers will be all the same length. When males are excited, a fleshy flap on the bill expands, and this, the wattles and the bare skin of the head and neck all become engorged with blood, almost concealing the eyes and bill. The long fleshy object over a male's beak is called a snood. Each foot has three toes in front, with a shorter, rear-facing toe in back; males have a spur behind each of their lower legs. [12]

Male turkeys have a long, dark, fan-shaped tail and glossy bronze wings. As with many other species of the Galliformes, turkeys exhibit strong sexual dimorphism. The male is substantially larger than the female, and his feathers have areas of red, purple, green, copper, bronze, and gold iridescence. Females, called hens, have feathers that are duller overall, in shades of brown and gray. Parasites can dull coloration of both sexes; in males, coloration may serve as a signal of health. The primary wing feathers have white bars. Turkeys have 5000 to 6000 feathers.[8] Tail feathers are of the same length in adults, different lengths in juveniles. Males typically have a "beard", a tuft of coarse hair (modified feathers) growing from the center of the breast. Beards average 230 mm (9.1 in) in length. In some populations, 10 to 20% of females have a beard, usually shorter and thinner than that of the male. The adult male (or "tom") normally weighs from 5 to 11 kg (11 to 24 lb) and measures 100–125 cm (39–49 in) in length. The adult female (or "hen") is typically much smaller at 2.5–5.4 kg (5.5–11.9 lb) and is 76 to 95 cm (30 to 37 in) long. Per two large studies, the average weight of adult males is 7.6 kg (17 lb) and the average weight of adult females is 4.26 kg (9.4 lb). The wings are relatively small, as is typical of the galliform order, and the wingspan ranges from 1.25 to 1.44 m (4 ft 1 in to 4 ft 9 in). The wing chord is only 20 to 21.4 cm (7.9 to 8.4 in). The bill is also relatively small, as adults measure 2 to 3.2 cm (0.79 to 1.26 in) in culmen length The tarsus of the wild turkey is quite long and sturdy, measuring from 9.7 to 19.1 cm (3.8 to 7.5 in). The tail is also relatively long, ranging from 24.5 to 50.5 cm (9.6 to 19.9 in). The record-sized adult male wild turkey, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation, weighed 16.85 kg (37.1 lb), with records of tom turkeys weighing over 13.8 kg (30 lb) uncommon but not rare. While it is usually rather lighter than the waterfowl, after the trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator), the turkey has the second heaviest maximum weight of any North American bird. Going on average mass, several other birds on the continent, including the American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), the tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus columbianus) and the very rare California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) and whooping crane (Grus americana) surpass the mean weight of turkeys. On one hand, none of these other species are as sexually dimorphic in size as the wild turkey, but on the other, they are also far less numerous and are not legally hunted unlike the turkey, thousands of which are weighed every year during hunting season. [12]

Wild turkeys prefer hardwood and mixed conifer-hardwood forests with scattered openings such as pastures, fields, orchards and seasonal marshes. They seemingly can adapt to virtually any dense native plant community as long as coverage and openings are widely available. Open, mature forest with a variety of interspersion of tree species appear to be preferred. In the Northeast of North America, turkeys are most profuse in hardwood timber of oak-hickory (Quercus-Carya) and forests of red oak (Quercus rubra), beech (Fagus grandifolia), cherry (Prunus serotina) and white ash (Fraxinus americana). Best ranges for turkeys in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont sections have an interspersion of clearings, farms, and plantations with preferred habitat along principal rivers and in cypress (Taxodium distichum) and tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) swamps. Appalachian and Cumberland plateaus, birds occupy mixed forest of oaks and pines on southern and western slopes, also hickory with diverse understories. Bald cypress and sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) swamps of s. Florida; also hardwood of Cliftonia (a heath) and oak in north-central Florida. Lykes Fish eating Creek area of s. Florida has up to 51% cypress, 12% hardwood hammocks, 17% glades of short grasses with isolated live oak (Quercus virginiana); nesting in neighboring prairies. Original habitat here was mainly longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) with turkey oak (Quercus laevis) and slash pine (Pinus caribaea) "flatwoods," now mainly replaced by slash pine plantations. [12]

Despite their weight, wild turkeys, unlike their domesticated counterparts, are agile fliers. In ideal habitat of open woodland or wooded grasslands, they may fly beneath the canopy top and find perches. They usually fly close to the ground for no more than 400 m (a quarter mile). [12]

Wild turkeys are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climbing shrubs and small trees to feed. They prefer eating acorns, nuts and other hard mast of various trees, including hazel, chestnut, hickory, and pinyon pine as well as various seeds, berries such as juniper and bearberry, roots and insects. Turkeys also occasionally consume amphibians and small reptiles such as lizards and snakes. Poults have been observed eating insects, berries, and seeds. Wild turkeys often feed in cow pastures, sometimes visit back yard bird feeders, and favor croplands after harvest to scavenge seeds on the ground. Turkeys are also known to eat a wide variety of grasses.

Turkey populations can reach large numbers in small areas because of their ability to forage for different types of food. Early morning and late afternoon are the desired times for eating.[12]

Males are polygamous, mating with as many hens as they can. Male wild turkeys display for females by puffing out their feathers, spreading out their tails and dragging their wings. This behavior is most commonly referred to as strutting. Their heads and necks are colored brilliantly with red, blue and white. The color can change with the turkey's mood, with a solid white head and neck being the most excited. They use gobbling, drumming/booming and spitting as signs of social dominance, and to attract females. Courtship begins during the months of March and April, which is when turkeys are still flocked together in winter areas. [12]

Males may be seen courting in groups, often with the dominant male gobbling, spreading their tail feathers (strutting), drumming/booming and spitting. In a study, the average dominant male that courted as part of a pair of males fathered six more eggs than males that courted alone. Genetic analysis of pairs of males courting together shows that they are close relatives, with half of their genetic material being identical. The theory behind the team-courtship is that the less dominant male would have a greater chance of passing along shared genetic material than if it were courting alone. [12]

When mating is finished, females search for nest sites. Nests are shallow dirt depressions engulfed with woody vegetation. Hens lay a clutch of 10–14 eggs, usually one per day. The eggs are incubated for at least 28 days. The poults are precocial and nidifugous, leaving the nest in about 12–24 hours. [12]














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