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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Spruce Grouse - Canachites canadensis
Other Names:  Falcipennis canadensis

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4

Agency Status


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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.

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
Although they are considerably smaller, Spruce Grouse are most likely to be confused with Dusky Grouse. Male Spruce Grouse, however, have a black breast patch, while Dusky Grouse do not. Female Spruce Grouse have white under parts with black barring, while female Dusky 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 Range Descriptions


Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 1631

(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)

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 (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
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.

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Citation for data on this website:
Spruce Grouse — Canachites canadensis.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from