Florence Merriam Bailey.

Handbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley online

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sunset as the birds are going high to roost, and just before you reach
the top, with a cluck and a whirr, down sails a great dark bird with
widespread wings and banded tail; and as you climb on. a banded
feather under a low fir bough discloses the hollow where it had
been scratching in the soft woods earth. Ride along a trail and as
you scan the trees beside you, though your horse hears no sound
and detects no motion, your eye may distinguish a statue-like figure
close to the tree trunk so like the bark in color that only its form
reveals it. Explore a wind-swept granite crag at sunset and in one
of its protected wooded niches warm in the evening light a mother
grouse whirrs up into a tree and walks up and down a branch, cran-
ing her long neck with its small pointed head, clucking anxiously
as she goes, and at the turns bobbing her tail and wobbling hard to
keep her balance. As she calls, one after another her invisible
young burst from the brushy thicket at your feet and on stiff convex
wing whirl away over the rocks out of sight. Go to a canyon
where the male is hooting and nearly a mile away you will hear his
loud ventriloquial whoo, whoo, whoo. Followed up, he proves to be
near the top of a tall pine fifty to seventy -five feet above your head,
sitting close to the trunk, concealed by the branches. Through the
glass he is seen to sit with spread tail and hanging wings, filling his
yellow pouches till his neck looks almost as big as his body, when
with a pumping motion of the head he gives his hollow muffled
hoot. If you stay to listen you may hear the booming at short
intervals for hours.

In winter, Major Bendire says, the grouse spend most of their
time in the tops of tall firs and pines, coming down only in the
middle of the day to get water from a mountain spring, for the
treetops supply buds and needles for their food.


297b. D. o. richardsonii (DougL). RICHARDSON GROUSE.

Similar to D. obscurus, but tail without distinct ter-
minal gray band, and tail feathers more truncated at

Distribution. Resident in Canadian zone of the
Rocky Mountains from northern Wyoming, Montana,
and Idaho, north to British Provinces.

Nest and eggs similar to those of the dusky grouse.

Fig. 200. The Richardson grouse is said to remain in the

mountains except in the breeding season, when it descends to
the valleys.


299. Canachites franklinii (DougL). FRANKLIN GROUSE.

Similar to Dendragapus, but tail with sixteen feathers, which are more
truncated at tip. Adult male: orange
comb over eye ; upper parts dark, broadly
marked with black bands and narrower
bars of gray and brown ; tail feathers
black to tip, or narrowly edged with
white ; upper tail coverts mottled and strik-
ingly banded with white ; throat and chest black, with white band between ;
belly banded with white ; flanks mottled and banded with brown and
streaked with white. Adult female : upper parts blackish, irregularly
banded, barred, and mottled with rusty brown and ash ; white bands of
tail narrower than in male ; under parts uniformly banded with black,
white, and rusty brown. Length : 14.70-16.20, wing about 6.50-7.35, tail

Distribution. Resident in the mountains of western Montana and
Idaho ; westward to the coast ranges of Oregon and Washington ; and
northward through British Provinces to southern Alaska.

Nest. On ground in woods. Eggs : 8 to 15, buffy or pale brownish,
more or less spotted with deep brown.

Food. Grasshoppers, wild berries, and buds and leaves of spruces and

No bird is more characteristic of the deep fir forests of the north-
ern Rockies and Cascades than the Franklin grouse. It is known
locally as the ' fool-hen ' from its misplaced confidence in man, its
attitude toward him being one of mild curiosity and indifference
rather than alarm. A grouse will sometimes walk slowly out of the
way to avoid being stepped on, and will often sit quietly beside the
trail as you pass. The danger the birds run in keeping quiet is
not as great as it appears, however, for in the dark forest their
du'sky mottling renders them almost invisible.




General Characters. Head with a short crest ; sides of neck with a
black or brown ruff of soft, broad-webbed feathers ; tail nearly as long as
wing, fan-shaped.


1. Upper parts dark rusty brown sabini, p. 128.

1'. Upper parts not dark rusty brown.

2. Upper parts, including tail, gray .... umbelloides, p. 128.

2'. Upper parts gray and brown, tail sometimes ochraceous.

togata, p. 127.

300a. Bonasa umbellus togata (Linn.). CANADIAN RUFFED

Similar to B. u. umbelloides, but darker ; upper parts mixed with gray,
sometimes mostly gray ; under parts more heavily marked with brown,flanks
barred with dark brown or black ; tail brown or gray.

Distribution. Resident in the Canadian zone forests of the northeastern
United States, British Provinces, and eastern parts of Oregon and Wash-

Nest and eggs similar to those of umbelloides.

Food. Largely buds, leaves, berries, fungus, seeds, and nuts.

While common in its various forms over much of the northwestern
United States and the Rocky Mountain region, the ruffed grouse is
less famed as a game bird in the west than in the east, probably
because other and larger grouse claim more attention. Wherever
flushed its quick flight and long, black-banded tail distinguish it
from all others of the family, while a strutting old male, stepping
daintily along a trail in the shady forest with black epaulettes
slightly lifted and tail half spread, has a grace and elegance found
in no other North American grouse.

Purely a bird of the forest, it relies largely upon cover and its
mottled coat for protection, and when flushed, if possible puts a
tree between itself and the hunter as it whirrs away to light out of
sight on the far side of a gray trunk. There it draws itself up and
stands as rigid as a branch. How well it knows how far to trust
itself, breaking away at the first intelligent gleam from the pur-
suer's eye ! But with all the skill and untamable wildness of the
grouse, it needs rigid protection from the day it leaves the eggshell.
A brood of bob-tailed young buzzing from the grass up on to the
branches are easily potted, and in winter a flock noisily picking
birch and alder-buds in the treetops are sadly exposed to the con-
scienceless hunter below.

While the snow is on the ground the birds feed mainly on buds,
and usually have a warm bed under the snow. Before the snow is
all gone in .spring, each male selects his drumming ground, a log,
a rock, or merely an open spot of ground, and begins his drum-


ming. The muffled wing-beats suggest distant thunder, though the
sound is much the same at twenty feet or forty rods. I have often
crept up within twenty or thirty feet of an old cock and watched
him. Standing in a perfectly natural position, he begins without
any warning. The wings are slightly raised and brought quickly
down to the sides, one, two, three, four, five, six times, you can
count no farther, the buzzing wings are lost in a blur, and the
sounds blend in a crescendo roar. For hours at a time through the
breeding season the drumming is kept up at intervals of from one
to several minutes. It is heard mainly in the morning and evening,
but irregularly at all times of day and night, though always from
the same spot. VEKNON BAILEY.

300b. B. u. umbelloides (DougL). GRAY RUFFED GROUSE.
Adult male. Ruffs black, with bluish green gloss to tips ; upper parts

gray, whole surface finely

mottled gray and black, more
or less washed wii

with rufous,

blotched with black, and
streaked with white ; tail al-
ways gray, with broad black
subterminal band ; under

Fig. 202. parts white and buffy, barred

with brown. Adult female :
similar but smaller, with neck tufts rudimentary or obsolete. Young :
similar to adult female, but browner, barring paler, less distinct, dim
white, and neck tufts wanting. Length : 15.50-19.00, wing 7.00-7.50, tail

Distribution. Breeds in Canadian and Hudsonian zones, in the central
Rocky Mountain system of the United States, British America, and

Nest . A hollow at base of tree or rock, or by a fallen treetop or
brush pile. Eggs : 8 to 14, varying from white to pinkish buff, stained
with brown.

Food. Wild fruit and berries, seeds, buds, and green leaves.

300c. B. U. sabini (DougL). OREGON RUFFED GROUSE.

Like B. u. umbelloides, but much darker ; upper parts black and dark
rusty or reddish brown, rarely with any gray ; tail usually deep rusty,
rarely grayish ; under parts heavily marked with blackish and washed
with buffy brown.

Distribution. Resident in humid Transition and Canadian zones in
coast ranges from British Columbia south to Humboldt County, Cali-

Nest. As described by Bendire, a hollow under fallen branches lined
with dead leaves, spruce needles, and a few feathers. Eggs : 7 to 13.

Food. Similar to that of other grouse.


General Characters. Toes and tarsus densely feathered, tail less than
two thirds as long as wing, with long coverts reaching to tip.

Photographed from life by E. R. Warren.




1. General color of upper parts gray, in fall plumage.

' leucurus, p. 129.
1'. General color of upper parts buffy, in fall plumage.

altipetens, p. 129.

304. Lagopus leucurus Swains. $- Rich. WHITE-TAILED PTAR-

Adults in winter. Pure white. Adults in summer : plumage spotted,
barred, or mottled with black and rich buffy brown except for white
wings, tail, legs, and belly; the white tail hidden from above by long
mottled coverts. Adults in fall : similar to summer, but dark parts more
uniformly gray, with finer markings and only a trace of buffy. Young :
tail gray. Wing : 6.37-6.75, tail 3.81-4.07, bill .37, tarsus 1.13-1.22.

Distribution. Above timber line in Alaska, mountains of British
Columbia, and higher peaks of Cascades, south to Hood and Jefferson.

Nest. On ground in open situations, a depression in the grass, or an
actual nest of interlaced grass stems, weed tops, and feathers. Eggs : 1 to
16, more or less heavily spotted or marbled with dark brown or black on a
buffy or light rusty ground.

Food. Grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, and other insects, as well as
young foliage, buds, flowers, and catkins.

Well above timber line along the crests of the higher mountain
ranges these hardy furry-footed little grouse live among the rocks
and heather beds, where, although the food supply is small, they
find an abundance, there being little or no competition from birds of
like habits.

In summer they keep close to the retreating snow-banks and often
make their nests beside permanent glaciers. Their usual landscape
is patched with snow as their plumage is with white. But though
they are colored for safety among the glaciers, the dark parts of their
plumage make them blend in with the rocks so perfectly that they
are almost invisible when not moving a fact they seem to appre-
ciate, for they sit still until you almost step on them.


304a. L. 1. altipetens Osgood. SOUTHERN WHITE-TAILED PTAR-

Slightly larger than leucurus and similar
to it in winter and summer plumages, but
in fall plumage more brownish, the upper
parts pale cinnamon rufous. Wing 7.10-
7.44, tail 4.30-4.72, bill about .37, tarsus 203


Distribution. Colorado and New Mexico.

In Colorado the local name for the ptarmigan is ' white quail.'

General Characters. Sides of neck with a conspicuous tuft of stiff,
pointed feathers and an inflatable air sac ; head with a slight soft crest ;


tail short, rounded; tarsus scantily feathered to toes; toes extensively
webbed at base.


1. Bars of back and rump single, broad and solid black.

2. Larger americanus, p. 130.

2'. Smaller. Coast of Texas attwateri, p. 131.

1'. Bars of back and rump treble, a brown bar inclosed between two nar-
row black bars pallidicinctus, p. 131.

305. Tympanuchus americanus (Eeich.). PRAIRIE HEN.

Adult male. Upper parts yellowish brown and white, crossed by single
black bars ; under parts white, barred with brown ; head deep buff except

for blackish brown stripes and
blotches ; neck with tufts above
inflatable air sac, feathers of
tufts 2.50 or more in length
with broad rounded tips.
Adult female: similar, but

with neck tufts rudimentary.

204. Young: upper parts light

brownish, feathers with con-
spicuous white mesial streaks and large black blotches. Male: length
18-19, wing 8.60-9.40, tail 4.00-4.30. Female: length 17.50, wing 8.65,
tail 3.80.

Distribution. Prairies of the Mississippi valley from Manitoba south
to Texas and Louisiana, and west to Colorado, with a general tendency
toward extension of range westward and contraction eastward. Migrates
locally north and south.

Nest. A slight excavation in the ground among grass and weeds on
open prairie, sometimes lined with matted grass and a few feathers. Eggs:
usually 11 to 14, cream, olive, or buffy, sometimes slightly specked with

Food. Grasshoppers, potato bugs, and various other beetles and in-
sects, besides berries, grain, small seeds, green leaves, and buds.

The few scared, hunted prairie chickens that remain scattered here
and there over our great middle prairies are but a poor remnant of
the abundant flocks that only a few years back feasted through the
summer on grasshoppers and boomed loudly in spring from every
lonely hilltop and wide expanse of open country. Perhaps no bird
offers such tempting sport to hunters as these quick but straight-
flying grouse of the open country, ranging as they do in flocks of
ten or twelve, lying close for the dogs, scattering as they fly, and
lighting again on all sides to be worked up and shot by ones and
twos. When besides their character as game birds their goodly size
and delicious flavor are considered, it seems little wonder that they
have been rapidly destroyed. In places they are still fairly common,
and by wise protection could no doubt be kept from extermination.

Through the summer months they are quiet birds, nesting in the
grass and keeping their young well out of sight in grainfields or


berry patches. In winter, flocks of sometimes a hundred or more
wary old birds gather together, but they light in the treetops to
inspect the horizon for danger before settling down to breakfast in
the cornfield, or else fly from their soft beds of snow to some big
open field where there is not so much as a bush or stick to hide a
lurking enemy. As the snow gets deeper it only brings them up
nearer the berries, haws, and buds, which furnish the bulk of their
winter food. When the snow hardens to a rigid crust and a few
patches of bare ground appear you hear just at sunrise a low boom-
ing sound, perhaps a mile away, answered by one after another of
the awakened cocks. This will be heard for hours every morning
from the last of February till the first of May in the grouse country,
for then the birds are having their famous dances. A few cocks and
hens gather on a frozen lake or the open prairie, and the males fight
and strut and boom in ardent rivalry before the apparently uncon-
cerned females. They inflate the orange air sacs on each side of the
neck, spread the yellow fringe over the eyes, and with widespread
tail, drooping wings, erect neck tufts, and lowered head emit the air
with the low booming sound. The booming is kept up throughout
the breeding season. It is a most deceptive sound, at twenty feet
often seeming far away, and at a long distance sounding close oy.


305 a. T. a. attwateri (Bend.). ATTWATEB PRAIRIE HEN.

Similar to T. americanus, but smaller and darker ; usually more chestnut
on the neck ; wing coverts with smaller, more tawny spots ; tarsus more
scantily feathered, feathers never reaching base of toes ; in summer, greater
part of tarsus naked ; in winter, stripe of bare skin on back of tarsus.

Distribution. Coast districts of southwestern Louisiana and Texas.

307. Tympanuchus pallidicinctus Eidgw. LESSER PRAIRIE

Like the prairie hen but paler, and bars of back in threes, a wide brown
bar inclosed by two narrow black bars. Male : wing 8.20-8.30, tail 4.00-
4.20. Female : wing 8.00-8.20, tail 3.50-4.00.

Distribution. Eastern edge of the plains, from Kansas south to
western Texas.

Nest. On ground in meadows or other open situations. Eggs : 8 to 12
or more, grayish, olive, or buffy, usually plain, but sometimes spotted with


General Characters. Head lightly crested, a naked patch over each
eye ; neck without obviously peculiar feathers, but with a hidden patch of
distensible skin, reddish in the breeding season, over which lies a series of
slightly enlarged feathers ; feet feathered to the toes ; toes with a con-
spicuous fringe of horny processes in winter ; tail much shorter than wings,
graduated, feathers square at tips, the middle pair projecting much beyond
the rest.



1. Ground color buffy grayish ....... columbianus, p. 132.

1'. Ground color rusty or yellowish brown .... campestris. p. 132.

308a. Pedioecetes phasianellus columbianus (Ord). CO-



throat white. Length : 15-19, wing 8.50-9.00, tail 4.00-5.50.

Distribution. Breeds in northern part of Great Basin region, east to
Montana and Wyoming, and north from Utah, Nevada, and northeastern
California to central portion of Alaska.

Nest, A hollow in the ground, lined with dried grass and feathers.
Eggs: 11 to 14, creamy buff to olive brown, usually lightly spotted with
reddish brown.

Nowhere so abundant as the pinnated grouse, the sharp-tailed has
a wider range over more unsettled country and will probably last
longer, especially in the northern part of its range. While a prairie
or plains bird, it is usually flushed from a berry patch, low bushes
beside a creek, a stubble field, or sagebrush. Its finely mottled
plumage makes it very inconspicuous, and its tendency is to lie low
and be 3 flushed at fatally close quarters.

Though the grouse usually keep well hidden in summer, in winter
when their plumage has become dense and their feet and legs rabbit-
like, they may be seen crossing the fields on top of the snow or get-
ting their breakfast of buds from the tops of trees and tall bushes.
When the weather is cold and the snow.deep and soft they oftep
roost under the snow like the ruffed grouse, and come out in the
morning fifteen or twenty feet from where they entered the white
surface at night.

In spring the males have a loud cackling note, besides a scraping
sound produced apparently by opening and closing their rigid tail


308b. P. p. campestris Ridgw. PKAIBIE SHARP-TAILED GROUSE.
Similar to columbianus, but ground color much lighter, prevailing shade
rusty or yellowish brown ; under parts main-
ly whitish, and dark breast washed with

Distribution. Breeds on plains and prairies
in Transition and Upper Sonoran zones from
Manitoba south to New Mexico, and from
Wisconsin and Illinois west to the Rocky

X*. - On the ground. Eggs : 11 to 14,
creamy butt' to pale olive brown, slightly



Food. Grasshoppers and other insects, fruit, berries, grain, buds, and


General Characters. Tail longer than wings, graduated, feathers
pointed ; neck with distensible air sacs surmounted by hair-like filaments
and erect feathers ; tarsus feathered to toes.

309. Centrocercus urophasianus (Bonap.). SAGE GROUSE.

Adult male. Upper parts mottled gray or buffy, irregularly spotted or
barred with black or brownish ; in breeding season tufts of white downy
feathers, mixed with black egret-
iike wiry plumes on shoulders ;
yellow air sacs on side of throat ;
chest blackish before the breed-
ing season, with black wiry
feathers depending from the
chest band ; chest white after
the breeding season, during
which time the blackish tips
are worn off by rubbing on the
ground. Adult female: similar
to male but smaller and without
ruffs, air sacs, or nuptial plumes ;
throat white, chest band spec-
kled grayish. Young : some-
what like adult female but
brownish above, markings on
under parts, including black of
belly, less distinct. Male: length
26-30, wing 12-13, tail 11-13,
weight 4-J-S pounds. Female :
length 21.50-23.00, wing about
10.50-11.00, tail 8-9.

Distribution. Breeds in sage-
brush plains of the interior in
Upper Sonoran and Transition From Bond ' The AuK -

zones from Assiniboia and Brit-
ish Columbia to Utah, Nevada, and California, from the Sierra Nevada and
Cascades east to the Black Hills, Nebraska, and Colorado.

Nest. A slight hollow, with or without lining, usually under the shelter
of a sage bush, but sometimes near a creek sheltered by a bunch of high
grass. Eggs : usually 7 to 9, olive buff to greenish brown, marked with
round spots of dark brown.

Food. Grasshoppers, ants, and other insects, with tender plants, leaves,
buds, and flowers.

Throughout the Great Basin and arid plains country, where the
most abundant and characteristic plant is the silvery -leaved aromatic
sagebrush, we find this largest, stateliest of North American Tetra-
onidae, the sage grouse. It is a bird of the open country, seeking no
heavier cover than the low sagebrush and often wandering over bar-
ren slopes or short grass meadows, or in large flocks late in summer
mounting above the timber belt of the mountains, to find new pas-
tures in the stunted growth of sage close to perpetual snow.


When much hunted the grouse become as wary as any game birds,
but in a few far-away corners of their range they are still numer-
ous. To the sportsman used to the quick whirr of the pinnated and
sharp-tailed grouse the heavy roar and steady flight of a magnificent
black-breasted long-tailed old sage cock offers far too easy a target,
and the birds soon become scarce when the country is settled.

Considering their quiet dispositions and large size it seems strange
that they have never been domesticated. The young birds are as
delicious as any grouse, and while the old ones are often flavored
with sage, a wholesome wormwood bitter, they can usually be cooked
so that the flavor will not be noticed. VERNON BAILEY.

Mr. Frank Bond explains the fact that the chest feathers of the
grouse become worn off during the breeding season. He says:
''During the months of April and May the sage cocks are usually
found in small flocks of a half dozen or more, stalking about with
tails erect and spread after the manner of the strutting turkey cock.
. . . Instead of dragging its wings upon the ground the sage cock
will enormously inflate the air sacs of the neck until the whole neck
and breast is balloon -like in appearance, then stooping forward almost
the entire weight of the body is thrown upon the distended portion
and the bird slides along on the bare ground or short grass for some
distance, the performance being concluded by the expulsion of the
air from the sacs, with a variety of chuckling, cackling, or rum-
bling sounds. This performance is continued probably daily during
the pairing and nesting season, and of course the feathers are worn
away by the constant friction." (The Auk, xvii. 325.)



1. Head naked, skin wrinkled and warted .... Meleagris, p. 136.
1'. Head feathered, except sometimes around eye.

2. Head not crested Phasianus, p. 134.

1 2'. Head conspicuously crested.

3. Neck with conspicuous erectile ruff . Chrysolophus, p. 135.
3'. Neck without ruff Gennaeus, p. 135.


General Characters. Head not crested ; male with brilliant metallic
colors and handsome markings, tail lengthened, graduated, and vaulted,
the feathers usually tapering to a point. Female much smaller and
brownish, with upper parts more or less mottled, spotted, and marked with

A dozen or more pheasants have been introduced into the United
States, but the ring-necked is the only one that has thus far gained
a foothold in the west.

Online LibraryFlorence Merriam BaileyHandbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley → online text (page 17 of 65)