Dusky Grouse - Dendragapus obscurus
The Dusky Grouse (until recently known as the Blue Grouse) is the largest of Montana's three species of mountain grouse. Both sexes have long, square tails which are unbarred. Males have slate-colored upper parts, white-based neck feathers around the air sacs, and yellow-orange eye combs. Females tend to be browner than males and have barring on the head, neck, and back. Both sexes have uniform blue-gray breasts and bellies, and feathered legs. Adult males range from 18.5 to 22.5 inches in length and 2.5 to 3 pounds in weight; adult females range from 17 to 19 inches in length and average about 2 pounds in weight.
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
Dusky Grouse are most likely to be confused with Spruce (Franklin) Grouse in Montana. Male Spruce Grouse, however, are considerably smaller than male Dusky Grouse and have a black breast patch. Female Spruce Grouse have white under parts with conspicuous black barring, while female Dusky Grouse are bluish-gray beneath.
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
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Map Help and Descriptions
(direct evidence "B")
(indirect evidence "b")
No evidence of Breeding
(regular observations "W")
(at least one obs. "w")
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
Dusky Grouse winter at high elevations in conifer stands. In early spring, they descend to lower altitudes, where they prefer forest edges and openings. Broods may be found quite far from timber during summer and early fall. In the Bridger Mountains in early summer, broods were often observed in grass-forb areas (with arrow-leaf balsamroot being dominant); increased use of deciduous thickets was observed in late July to August (Mussehl 1958). See also Martinka 1970 for habitat comments from the Sapphire Mountains.
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 (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- 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 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
- 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 listed as associated with 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 listed as 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.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific 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 assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
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: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp
) 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.
- 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. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
- 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.
- Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
- Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Human Land Use
In winter they eat mainly conifer needles. In summer they eat a mixed diet of insects, green plants and berries. The young eat mainly insects (Mussehl 1971).
Brood movement in summer is generally less than 0.5 mile. Brood break-up appeared concurrent with fall dispersal, in late August to early September and had lateral and altitudinal components. Brood range densities were 27 (1957) and 34 (1958) in a 1 square mile area (Mussehl 1958).
Hatching dates in the Bridger Mountains ranged from May 25 to July 11, with the peak the 3rd week of June (Mussehl 1958). Near Fortine, hatching dates were June 10 to August 15; broods ranged from 1 to 10 young.
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
- Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages.
- Mussehl, T. W. 1958. Blue grouse production, movements, and populations in the Bridger Mountains, Montana. M.S. thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 34 pp.
- 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.
- Additional ReferencesLegend: View Online Publication
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- American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p.
- Anonymous. 1959. Blue grouse. Montana Wildlife. November.
- Blackford, J. L. 1958. Territoriality and breeding behavior of a population of Blue Grouse in Montana. Condor 60:145-158.
- Blackford, J.L. 1963. Further observations on the breeding behavior of a blue grouse population in Montana. Condor 65:485-513.
- Casey, D. 2000. Partners in Flight Draft Bird Conservation Plan Montana. Version 1.0. 287 pp.
- 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.
- Hartkom, F. L. 1956. Montana blue grouse. Montana Wildlife. June.
- Herman, M. F. 1980. Spruce Grouse habitat requirements in western Montana. Ph.D dissertation, University of Montana, Missoula.
- Hoffmann, R. S. 1960. Summer birds of the Little Belt Mountains, Montana. Occasional Papers of Montana State University No. 1, Missoula.
- Hutto, R. L., and J. S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service. U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-32, Ogden, Utah.
- Johnsgard, P. A. 1973. Grouse and quail of North America. U. of Nebraska, Lincoln. 553 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.
- Joslin, Gayle. 1980. Wildlife inventory and hard rock mining impact analysis of the West Cabinet Mountains and Lake Creek Valley, Lincoln County, Montana. MTFWP 91 pgs + 47 pgs app.
- Landusky Mining Inc., Zortman, MT. Assisted by Hydrometrics, Helena, MT., 1985, Operating Permit Application for an Extension of Landusky Mining Incorporated Operations, Phillips County, Montana. June 12, 1985
- 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.
- Marshall, W. H. 1946. Cover preferences, seasonal movements, and food habits of Richardson's grouse and ruffed grouse in Southern Idaho. Wilson Bull. 58:42-52.
- Martinka, R.R. 1970. Structural characteristics and ecological relationships of male blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus (Say)) territories in southwestern Montana. Ph.D Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 pp.
- Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
- Montana Dept. of State Lands, 1978, Preliminary environmental review for the proposed granting of an underground mining permit to Beartooth Coal Company, Incorporated, for the reopening of an underground coal mine in the area of Bearcreek, Carbon County, Montana. July 10, 1978.
- Mussehl, T. W. 1963. Blue Grouse brood cover selection and land-use implications. Journal of Wildlife Management 27(4):546-555.
- Mussehl, T. W. 1961. Blue grouse population study. Montana Dept. of Fish and Game, Helena. 13 pp.
- Mussehl, T. W. 1962. Blue grouse population study. Montana Dept. of Fish and Game, Helena. 17 pp.
- Mussehl, T. W. 1962. Effects of land-use practices on blue grouse habitat (breeding areas). Montana Dept. of Fish and Game, Helena. 5 pp.
- Mussehl, T. W. 1962. Some physical characteristics of ground vegetation used by blue grouse broods. NW Sec., The WildI. Soc., Missoula. 11 pp.
- Mussehl, T. W. 1965. Blue grouse population study (side effects of insecticides used in spruce budworm control). Montana Dept. of Fish and Game, Helena. 41 pp.
- Mussehl, T. W., and T. H. Leik. 1963. Sexing wings of adult blue grouse. J. WildI. Manage. 27: 102-106.
- Rogers, G. E. 1963. Blue grouse census and harvest in the United States and Canada. J. WildI. Manage. 27:579-585.
- Schladweiler, P. 1968. Blue grouse population and life history study. Montana Dept. of Fish and Game. Job Compi. Rep., Proj. No. W-91-R-9, Job No.II-C. 12 pp.
- Schladweiler, P. 1975. Seasonal food habits of Montana blue grouse. State of MT, Proj. No. W-120-R-6.
- Schladweiler, P. and T. W. Mussehl. 1969. Use of mist-nets for recapturing radio-equipped blue grouse. Joural of Wildlife Management 33(2):443-444.
- Schladweiler, P., T. W. Mussehl and R. J. Greene. 1970. Age determination of juvenile blue grouse by primary development. Journal of Wildlife Management 34(3):649-652.
- Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
- Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69.
- 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.
- Skinner, M. P. 1927. Richardson's grouse in Yellowstone National Park. Wilson's Bull. 39:208-214.
- Stabler, R. M., N. J. Kitzmiller, G. M. Clark, T. W. Mussehl and P. Schladweiler. 1969. Hematozoa from Mountain Blue Grouse. Jour. Parasit. 55(4):830-832.
- Stearns-Roger Inc., 1975, Environmental baseline information of the Mount Vernon Region, Montana. January 31, 1975.
- TVX Mineral Hill Mine, Amerikanuak, Inc., Gardiner, MT., 2002, Yearly summary of wildlife observation reports. 1990-2002 Letter reports.
- 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.
- Walcheck, K. C. 1999. The Lewis and Clark Expedition: Montana’s first bird inventory through the eyes of Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark Interpretive Association, Great Falls, Montana.
- Zackheim, K. 1973. Exhibit H: Wildlife Study. In Ash Grove Cement Co. files.
- Zwickel, Fred C., and James F. Bendell. 2005. Dusky Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus). Species Account Number 015. 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
- Additional Sources of Information Related to "Birds"