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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Spruce Grouse - Falcipennis canadensis

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4

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Copyright by: The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, all rights reserved.
General Description
Both sexes have tail feathers that are unbarred and narrowly tipped with white, and feathered legs. Males are gray and black above, with a black throat and a well-defined black breast patch bordered with white-tipped feathers; they have scarlet eye combs. Females are mostly white beneath but barred with black, gray, and buff. Females are also extensively barred on the head. Adult males and females range from 15 to 17 inches in length and average about 17.5 ounces in weight.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Although they are considerably smaller, Spruce Grouse are most likely to be confused with Blue Grouse. Male Spruce Grouse, however, have a black breast patch, while Blue Grouse do not. Female Spruce Grouse have white under parts with black barring, while female Blue Grouse have bluish-gray under parts. Ruffed Grouse have distinctly banded tails. White-tailed Ptarmigan are smaller than Spruce Grouse, and are found only in alpine and sub-alpine habitats. In the fall, White-tailed Ptarmigan are reddish-brown above, with belly, tail, and wings of white.

Species Range
Montana Range

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Western Hemisphere Range


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 533

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


(direct evidence "B")

(indirect evidence "b")

No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")

(regular observations "W")

(at least one obs. "w")


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Spruce Grouse in Montana inhabit dense forest types such as alpine fir, engelmann spruce, or lodgepole pine. Winter home ranges northeast of Missoula are covered by Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine and larch. Douglas-fir provided the most important cover; the average size being 24.1 hectars (Paterni 1976). North of Columbia Falls, hens with chicks occupied more open areas in winter (Stoneberg 1967).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Conifer needles (larch, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine) were the main food in late fall through early spring (Paterni 1976, Stoneberg 1967). In summer, herbaceous vegetation and insects were utilized.

North of Columbia Falls, the density of territorial males was 5 per square mile with home territories of 10 to 15 acres (Stoneberg 1967). 80% of winter observations are of solitary birds; males were always alone, females may be with other females and/or immatures (Paterni 1976).

Reproductive Characteristics
Predation by Northern Goshawks, Coyotes and Great Horned Owls were the major cause of nest failure. Chicks were reported by mid-July (Davis 1961). Near Fortine, broods of 4 to 6 hatched from June 20 to July 20.

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Davis, C.V. 1961. A distributional study of the birds of Montana. Ph.D. dissertation. Oregon State University, Corvallis. 462 pp.
    • Paterni, M.J. 1976. Habitat relations of spruce grouse in a mixed coniferous forest. M.S. Thesis, University of Montana, Missoula.
    • Stoneberg, R. P. 1967. A preliminary study of the breeding biology of the spruce grouse in northwestern Montana. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 82 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Aldrich, J. W. 1963. Geographic Distribution of American Tetraonidae. J. Wildl. Manage. 27:529-545.
    • American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. 829 pp.
    • Anonymous. 1959. Franklin grouse. Montana Wildlife. November.
    • Boag, D. A., and M. A. Schroeder. 1992. Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis). Species Account Number 005. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
    • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
    • Frissel, S.S., and E.E. Willard. 1975. Ecology of the spruce grouse in western Montana. Natl. Geogr. Sty. Res. Rep. 16:285-287.
    • Herman, M. F. 1980. Spruce grouse habitat requirements in western Montana. Ph.D Thesis. Univ. of Montana, Missoula. 181 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
    • Jonkel, C. J. and K. R. Greer. 1963. Fall food habits of spruce grouse in northwest MT. J. Wildl. Mgmt. 27:595-596.
    • Lenard, S.J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana Bird Distribution, 6th Edition. Montana Audubon: Helena, MT, 144 pp.
    • Lumsden, H. G., and R. B. Weeden. 1963. Notes on the harvest of spruce grouse. J. Wildl. Manage. 27:587-591.
    • Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
    • Mussehl, T.W. P. Schladweiler, and R. Weckwerth. 1971. Forest Grouse. pp. 142-152 in T.W. Mussehl and F.W. Howell (eds.), Game Manaqement in Montana. Montana Department of Fish and Game, Helena. 238 pp.
    • Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
    • Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
    • Stearns-Roger Inc., 1975, Environmental baseline information of the Mount Vernon Region, Montana. January 31, 1975.
    • U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
    • USDI Fish and Wildlife Service., 1961, A Detailed report on fish and wildlife resources affected by McNamara Dam and Reservoir, Blackfoot River Project, Montana. June 1961.
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Citation for data on this website:
Spruce Grouse — Falcipennis canadensis.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on May 25, 2016, from