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Dusky Grouse - Dendragapus obscurus
Other Names:  Blue Grouse

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4
(see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status
PIF: 3


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Copyright by: The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, all rights reserved.
State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species is apparently secure and not at risk of extirpation or facing significant threats in all or most of its range.
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    Dusky Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 09/15/2008
    Population Size

    ScoreU - Unknown


    Range Extent

    ScoreG - 200,000-2,500,000 km squared (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)

    Comment218268 square kilometers based on Natural Heritage Program range maps

    Area of Occupancy

    ScoreH - >20,000 km squared (greater than 5,000,000 acres)

    Comment35732 square kilometers based on GAP predicted model.

    Long-term Trend

    ScoreE - Relatively Stable (±25% change)

    CommentHistoric covertypes largely still in place.

    Short-term Trend

    ScoreU - Unknown. Short-term trend in population, range, area occupied, and number and condition of occurrences unknown.

    CommentNo clear data.


    ScoreG - Slightly threatened. Threats, while recognizable, are of low severity, or affecting only a small portion of the population or area.

    CommentFire, Canopy removal, harvest

    SeverityLow - Low but nontrivial reduction of species population or reversible degradation or reduction of habitat in area affected, with recovery expected in 10-50 years.

    CommentPopulations likely to quickly recover

    ScopeLow - 5-20% of total population or area affected

    CommentFire increasingly a threat, but only likely to impact smaller regions of occupied habitat at any one time.

    ImmediacyModerate - Threat is likely to be operational within 2-5 years.

    CommentOngoing, but climate change could increase fire and canopy removal.

    Intrinsic Vulnerability

    ScoreB - Moderately Vulnerable. Species exhibits moderate age of maturity, frequency of reproduction, and/or fecundity such that populations generally tend to recover from decreases in abundance over a period of several years (on the order of 5-20 years or 2-5 generations); or species has moderate dispersal capability such that extirpated populations generally become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreC - Moderate. Generalist. Broad-scale or diverse (general) habitat(s) or other abiotic and/or biotic factors are used or required by the species but some key requirements are scarce in the generalized range of the species within the area of interest.

    CommentDrier conifer forests.

General Description
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.

Diagnostic Characteristics
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.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Montana Distribution

Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 3056

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


SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding

Indirect Evidence of Breeding

No Evidence of Breeding

WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Regularly Observed

Not Regularly Observed


(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:
    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 2012, 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 observation 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 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: 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.  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.

Food Habits
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).

Reproductive Characteristics
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.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, Montana. Montana State University. 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
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Aldrich, J. W. 1963. Geographic orientation of American Tetraonidae. Journal of Wildlife Management 27:529-545.
    • 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.
    • Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
    • Hejl, S.J., R.L. Hutto, C.R. Preston, and D.M. Finch. 1995. The effects of silvicultural treatments on forest birds in the Rocky Mountains. pp. 220-244 In: T.E. Martin and D.M. Finch (eds). Ecology and Management of Neotropical Migratory Birds. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press. 489 p.
    • Henderson, S. 1997. Effects of fire on avian distributions and patterns of abundance over two vegetation types in southwest Montana : implications for managing fire for biodiversity. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 95 p.
    • 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. Missoula, MT: Occasional Papers of Montana State University No. 1. 18 p.
    • 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, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society.
    • 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 Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 73 p.
    • Maxell, B.A. 2016. Northern Goshawk surveys on the Beartooth, Ashland, and Sioux Districts of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest: 2012-2014. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 114pp.
    • McWethy, D.B. 2007. Bird response to landscape and pattern disturbance across productivity gradients in forests of the Pacific Northwest. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 184 p.
    • 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.
    • Mosher, B.A. 2011. Avian community response to a mountain beetle epidemic. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 55 p.
    • 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. 1963. Blue Grouse brood cover selection and land-use implications. Journal of Wildlife Management 27(4):546-555.
    • 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.
    • Newlon, K.R. 2005. Demography of Lewis's Woodpecker, breeding bird densities, and riparian Aspen integrity in a grazed landscape. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 101 p.
    • Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p.
    • Richmond, C.W. and F.H. Knowlton. 1894. Birds of south-central Montana. Auk 11:298-308.
    • Rogers, G. E. 1963. Blue grouse census and harvest in the United States and Canada. J. WildI. Manage. 27:579-585.
    • Saunders, A.A. 1914. The birds of Teton and northern Lewis & Clark counties, Montana. Condor 16:124-144.
    • 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.
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    • 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.
    • Sparks, J.R. 1997. Breeding bird communities in mature and old-growth Douglas-fir forests in southwest Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 68 p.
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    • Stearns-Roger Inc., 1975, Environmental baseline information of the Mount Vernon Region, Montana. January 31, 1975.
    • Swan River National Wildlife Refuge. 1982. Birds of the Swan River NWR. Kalispell, MT: NW MT Fish and Wildlife Center pamphlet.
    • TVX Mineral Hill Mine, Amerikanuak, Inc., Gardiner, MT., 2002, Yearly summary of wildlife observation reports. 1990-2002 Letter reports.
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    • 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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    • 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
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Dusky Grouse — Dendragapus obscurus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from