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Phenology Report: Ruffed Grouses seeking spouses

A Ruffed Grouse stands on a log near Bowstring Lake, Minnesota on Feb. 22, 2024.
iNaturalist user Alyssa Sheffield
A Ruffed Grouse stands on a log near Bowstring Lake, Minnesota on Feb. 22, 2024.

Ruffed Grouse

Staff phenologist John Latimer heard Ruffed Grouse drumming on March 18. This is a bit early; John’s average date is April 2. While the timing varies by year, spring wouldn’t be the same without the resonant drumming of male Ruffed Grouse as they defend breeding territories and display for females.

According to Birds of the World, the "drumming" is not caused by physical contact (e.g. beating the wings against the chest or the drumming log), but instead by small sonic booms. These are created by air quickly filling momentary vacuums left behind by specialized wingbeats. These wingbeats begin slowly, then become very rapid: the male grouse will beat its wings nearly 50 times in one 8-11 second drumming interval.

The displaying grouse will then take a break lasting 45 seconds to 7 or more minutes. They will shorten these intervals if there is a competing male nearby.

A perfectly situated drumming site is a significant prize for a male grouse. They prefer sites in aspen stands that offer good protection from predators. This protection must be twofold, offering a clear view of approaching ground predators like foxes, but with dense cover above and behind to protect from aerial predators like hawks or owls. Drum sites are also elevated, often on a log, stump, or boulder.

While male grouse drum throughout the year, it is most frequent during spring courtship. Drumming is most often heard during sunset and sunrise, but on moonlit nights, it can go on all night.


  • Introduction (0:00-0:28)
  • Phenology is local, but community helps (0:28-0:53)
  • Ice out conditions (0:53-3:13)
  • Equinox (3:13-4:11)
  • Birds
    • Eagles mating (4:11-6:35) 
    • Waterfowl on Crooked Lake (6:35-8:20) 
    • Robins (8:20-9:06) 
    • Wild Turkeys (9:06-9:23) 
    • Red-winged Blackbirds (10:13-10:24) 
    • Goldfinches molting (11:42-12:06) 
    • Trumpeter swans (12:06-12:10) 
    • Ruffed Grouse drumming (14:42-15:14) 
    • Crows carrying sticks (15:14-15:49) 
  • Plants
    • Hazel and silver maple flowers (9:23-10:13) 
    • Speckled or tag alder (10:24-11:33) 
    • Trembling aspen or quaking aspen flowers (13:08-14:42) 
  • Compton tortoiseshell butterfly (11:33-11:42)
  • Drought conditions (12:10-13:08)
  • Chipmunk emergence (15:49-16:13)

That does it for this week! For more phenology, subscribe to our Season Watch Newsletter or visit the Season Watch Facebook page.

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

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Charlie Mitchell (she/they) joined the KAXE team in February of 2022. Charlie creates the Season Watch Newsletter, writes segment summaries for the website, and coordinates our Engaging Minnesotans with Phenology project. With a background in wildlife biology, she enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, aquatic invertebrates, or the short-tailed shrew (did you know they can echolocate?).