A spruce grouse is about the same size as a ruffed grouse or a small chicken. Its rounded head lacks the crested appearance of a ruffed grouse. The male has a black face and upper breast, bright red combs above its eyes, and bold black and white spots on its lower breast, belly, and sides. The female spruce grouse is dark grayish-brown with fine, barred underparts and spotted sides. Both sexes have a short, black tail with a pale rufous band at the tip. Spruce grouse can be quite tame, sometimes allowing a close approach by humans. As a result, this grouse is also known as "fool hen."
Coniferous forests in the northern United States and Canada are home to the spruce grouse. The northern/eastern subspecies occurs across most of the range, which includes Minnesota. The southwestern subspecies, known as Franklin's grouse, occurs in southern Alaska, southwestern Canada, and the northwestern United States. In Minnesota, spruce grouse are permanent residents in boreal forests in Roseau, Beltrami, Itasca, St. Louis, Lake, and Cook counties.
Spruce grouse can be found in both lowland and upland coniferous forests, most often among black spruce or jack pine, particularly in close proximity to black spruce. Females with broods sometimes use the edges of clear-cuts, most often when lowland coniferous forest is nearby.
One of the least vocal members of the grouse family, spruce grouse make several types of soft calls, including low hoots and clucks. Nonvocal sounds made by males include wing fluttering and tail swishing.
Minnesota's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy has identified the spruce grouse as a species of greatest conservation need, primarily due to relatively low population size and its restricted habitat and distribution. Its secretive nature and the remoteness of its haunts makes the spruce grouse highly sought after by birders. Harvest of this game species is relatively low, primarily because few hunters pursue them.
Steve Stucker, ornithologist, DNR Division of Ecological Resources