Sexes similar; the long, fan-shaped tail has a broad black band just below the tip (in females, the band is often broken in the central tail feathers). Both sexes have black neck ruffs (less conspicuous in females), crested heads, and brownish bodies. Males have a small orange-red eye comb. Feathering reaches about halfway down the legs; in winter, birds develop conspicuous fringes (pectinations) on the sides of their toes. Two color phases exist: red (or brown) and gray. Adult males and females range from 16 to 19 inches in length; adult males range from 21 to 23 ounces in weight, and adult females, 18 to 21 ounces.
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.
No other grouse has the fan-shaped, distinctively banded tail and black ruff.
Ruffed Grouse are found in dense, brushy, mixed-conifer and deciduous tree cover, often along stream bottoms. In the Bozeman area they are mostly in deciduous thickets in the foothills and mountains; also in riparian areas to the lowest elevation (Skaar 1969). Mussehl (1971) says they inhabit the denser cover of mixed conifer and deciduous trees and brush, and are often along stream bottoms.
In the winter they eat deciduous tree buds and shrubs. In summer, they subsist on a mixed diet of insects, green plants and berries, with young birds eating primarily insects (Mussehl 1971).
Gray phase birds occur in Montana (Johnsgard 1986). Adult birds may spend most of their lives in less than two square miles of habitat. Males are generally found within one-half mile of their drumming logs (Mussehl 1971).
Egg dates for the Fortine area are from May 1 to June 5; hatching dates are usually during June, but sometimes as late as July 10. Drumming has been heard in the Bozeman area as early as April 25 (Skaar 1969).