Dusky grouse (formerly known as blue grouse) are the second largest grouse in North America, measuring 15 to 12 inches in length. They are exceeded in size only by the sage grouse. Males weigh approximately three pounds and females and juveniles about two pounds.
Males are a slate-gray or blue-gray, while females are more mottled brown. Both sexes have a pale gray terminal band on their rounded or fan-shaped tail, however the band is more distinct in males. White markings are present on the flanks and under the tail feathers. Feathering extends to the base of the middle toe. The eyecomb of the male is yellow to orange. Females have smaller areas of bare skin over the eyes. Males have white feathers surrounding the cervical sacs. The white feathers and cervical sacs are absent in females.
Range: Dusky grouse are resident from southeastern Alaska and Northwest Territories south to California, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Dusky grouse frequently migrate in winter to areas of denser coniferous growth in higher altitudes.
Habitat: Dusky grouse are considered forest grouse, but during different times of the year they utilize distinctly different habitat types.
Dusky grouse winter in the high country, roosting and feeding in stands of Douglas fir and lodgepole pine.
In late March or early April, dusky grouse leave the high country and move to their breeding grounds. They may breed in a variety of habitats, including subalpine meadows and creek bottoms. But their preferred breeding habitat is along the aspen sagebrush interface.
East of the continental divide good densities of birds are found in these aspen sage areas. West of the divide, the highest densities of birds are found in areas where aspen and sagebrush combine with shrubs such as oakbrush, serviceberry and chokecherry. These areas remain moist throughout the summer and provide the forbs (low growing flower plants such as clover and dandelion) and insects which are crucial to the success of the young.
Diet: Vaccinium, also known as blueberry or grouse whortleberry, is an important diet component for adult males in the fall.
When the adult males leave the breeding grounds they generally move into the highest forest available which has a vaccinium understory.
They frequent the forest edges where they find a variety of foods. Males will stay here until late fall when the vaccinium drops its leaves and snow pushes them into their wintering grounds (Douglas fir or lodgepole pine trees).
In the meantime, hens with chicks stay in sagebrush/aspen breeding habitat until mid to late September. Unsuccessful hens may move up early like the males or they may remain in the breeding areas. How long they stay depends on the amount of moisture that year. In a dry year, forbs and insect foods are scarce so the hens and broods leave early. In wet years when insect and forbs are abundant broods may remain in breeding habitat into October. Upon leaving the breeding areas, hens and their broods move up to join the males in spruce-fir forest and with the onset of winter they also move up into Douglas fir and lodgepole pine stands to winter.
Reproduction: Dusky grouse courtship displays are not as centralized as sage or sharp-tailed grouse. Males defend territories and "display" by clapping their wings, hooting, hopping and strutting with their tail feathers fanned.
Females, once bred, lay seven to nine eggs in ground nests under shrubs, trees or thick sagebrush. Hens raise the chicks in the breeding area for the remainder of the summer and into early fall.
Males stay in the breeding areas until mid-July although they do not help with the rearing of the young. This allows males to mate with females re-nesting because they lost their clutches in early summer.
Sometime in mid-July, males move upslope to spend the remainder of the summer and early fall in the spruce-fir forest. Males move quickly from breeding habitat (6500-8500 ft) up to spruce-fir ridge tops (9,000 - 11,000) with a vaccinium understory.
Hunt edges, benches and draws. Look for berry or mast producing shrubs such as chokecherry, serviceberry, elderberry, currant (ribes), and oakbrush. Look for seaps and other water sources which tend to hold green forbs and insects later into the fall.
Higher elevations: Get as high as you can and then hunt downwards. Know your trees! Lodgepole pine is too low, keep going to spruce/fir. Look for vaccinium with berries and high elevation forbs and/or pockets of insects.
- Look for sign such as feathers, droppings, tracks and dusting bowls.
- A good bird dog is an asset in the sage/aspen areas. They aren’t as much of an asset in the high country (where birds don’t tend to hold a point) and can even hamper your hunting efforts.
- For every bird you see, you’ve probably walked past 5-10.
- Dusky grouse (formally know as blue Grouse) tend to be gregarious; where you find 1 bird there should be others nearby.
- When flushed in the high country, blue grouse tend to fly downhill and often escape by flying up into trees. When in sagebrush-aspen areas they tend to hold for pointing dogs and flush.
Season: Please refer to the Small Game Season dates page.