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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Ruffed Grouse - Bonasa umbellus

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4

Agency Status
PIF: 2


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Copyright by: The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, all rights reserved.
General Description
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.

Diagnostic Characteristics
No other grouse has the fan-shaped, distinctively banded tail and black ruff.

Species Range
Montana Range

Click the legend blocks above to view individual ranges.

Montana Distribution

Western Hemisphere Range


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 3046

(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)

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.
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
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).

Reproductive Characteristics
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).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1986. Birds of the Rocky Mountains: with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Colorado Associated University Press, Boulder, CO.
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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. Ruffed grouse. Montana Wildlife. November.
    • Atwater, S., and J. Schnell, eds. 1989. Ruffed grouse. Stackpole Wildlife Series. 384 pp.
    • Brenner, F.J. 1989. The essentials of habitat. P. 311-326 in S. Atwater and S. Schnell, eds. Ruffed Grouse. The Wildlife Series, Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA.
    • Cade, B. S., and P. J. Sousa. 1985. Habitat suitability index models: ruffed grouse. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. Biol. Rep. 82(10.86). 31 pp.
    • Casey, D. 2000. Partners in Flight Draft Bird Conservation Plan Montana. Version 1.0. 287 pp.
    • Champlin, M. R. 1979. Structural characteristics of territorial male ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) habitat in western Montana. MS Thesis, Univ. of Montana, Missoula. 159 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.
    • Gullion, G. 1989. The ruffed grouse. NorthWord. 144 pp.
    • Hungerford, K.E. 1951. Ruffed Grouse populations and cover use in northern Idaho. Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference 16(1951): 216-224.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-32. U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and Rocky Mountain Research Station, Ogden, UT. 72 pp.
    • 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.
    • Lehtimem, S. A. 1983. Movements and habitat use of ruffed grouse in the Bridger Mountains, Montana. M.S. thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman. 96 pp.
    • 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.
    • Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
    • Rusch, Donald H., Stephen Destefano, Michael C. Reynolds, and David Lauten. 2000. Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus). Species Account Number 515. 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
    • Scott, M. D., and S. A. Scott. 1991. Autumn foods of Ruffed Grouse in the Bridger Mountains, southcentral Montana. Northwest Science.
    • Scott, M. D., and S. A. Scott. 1991. Winter roosting habits of Ruffed Grouse in southcentral Montana. Acta Zool. Fenn.
    • Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
    • 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.
    • Western Technology and Engineering, Inc., Helena, MT., 1989, Reconnaissance of the wildlife resources in the vicinity of the Kendall Venture Mine. January 1989. In Kendall Venture North Moccasin Project: Amendment to Operating Permit 00122, Fergus County, Montana. Vol. 2, App. A, Feb., 1989.
    • Zackheim, Karen, 1973?, Exhibit H: Wildlife Study. In Ash Grove Cement Co. files.
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Citation for data on this website:
Ruffed Grouse — Bonasa umbellus.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on May 29, 2016, from