Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dusky Grouse

Mention Idaho wildlife migrations, and most think of animals "escaping winter": the southern flights of birds in the fall, mule deer and elk moving out of the high country into the mild valleys, bald eagles abandoning frozen lakes for open rivers.

This isn't the case for the dusky grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) : This large bird spends the summers in low-elevation foothills, and then migrates into the deep snow of coniferous forests in the winter.

In the summer and early fall, it feeds on seeds, berries and small insects. In the winter, its diet is almost exclusively pine needles.

Now is obviously an easier time to see these birds, the third largest grouse in North America (after the two sage grouse species). They can be seen in low-elevation foothills like the Boise Front and the Bennett Mountains near Mountain Home (where this one was photographed), or in valley areas in Idaho's national forests.

There is some anecdotal evidence that dusky grouse are in decline in some regions. But more research is needed. Now is the time to determine if there are long-term declines. Once a population becomes endangered, recovery is much more difficult.

By the way, the name "dusky grouse" may be unfamiliar, as most know this bird as the "blue grouse." Recently, the blue grouse was split into two species--the "sooty grouse" of coastal regions and the "dusky grouse" that is found in the Intermountain West, including Idaho.

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