Labrador’s spruce grouse: fun to hunt, great to eat

The Labradorian - - Editorial - Gary Shaw

Labrador is well blessed with a healthy and well dis­trib­uted pop­u­la­tion of spruce grouse through­out most of our ter­rain. In the big­ger pic­ture, 85 per cent of the global pop­u­la­tion of spruce grouse live and nest in Canada’s bo­real for­est. These non-mi­gra­tory birds are with us year round.

These birds are chicken like with a short neck and short tail. They are closely as­so­ci­ated with the conif­er­ous bo­real for­est and are very well adapted to perch­ing and mov­ing with ease among the spruce trees that are spread through­out Labrador.

Dur­ing the sum­mer months these birds feed pri­mar­ily on the ground eat­ing plant growth. The young of the year will also fo­cus on eat­ing in­sects. Dur­ing the win­ter months, these birds will feed in the trees on spruce nee­dles and buds.

The fe­males are an over­all grey color that are cryp­ti­cally pat­terned. While the males are sim­i­lar, they have red around the brows of their eyes and have black tails with white spots that are very dis­tinct when they have their tails fanned out on dis­play. Their over­all body will also ap­pear to show a bolder black color than the fe­males.

The male will mate with sev­eral fe­males each sea­son. The spruce grouse of­ten lay be­tween eight to 11 eggs that are plain or of­ten spot­ted. They will build their nests out of grass in a hol­low un­der young spruce trees with their branches close to the ground.

The av­er­age in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod will be from 17 to 24 days. When the young hatch out, they are very ac­tive right away. New growth grasses and in­sects make up their diet. Al­though they spend the sum­mer sea­son close to their mother, they are fledged out and able to fly in about 10 days.

These birds seem to be ex­traor­di­nar­ily tame and quiet when you ap­proach them. They have been called “fools hens” and “crazy hens” for a very long time. They are usu­ally ex­tremely quiet and rely on their color to con­ceal their pres­ence from preda­tors, in­clud­ing hu­mans.

They also seem to be cyclic in their num­bers. Some years they seem to be lower in num­bers and other years they are in far greater num­bers.

Al­though this seems to be the case, the spring weather can also have an ef­fect on the suc­cess of the hatch. The num­bers of young hatched out and the mor­tal­ity rate early in the young’s life can of­ten be linked to the spring weather.

A warm and rea­son­ably dry spring that oc­curs within the range of a nor­mal spring’s ar­rival will re­sult in a far greater suc­cess rate in the num­ber of the year’s hatch reach­ing adult­hood.

Our late ar­rival of spring and the cold and wet weather has shown us fewer birds this fall be­cause of the mor­tal­ity rate in this year’s hatch. Al­though there are still birds out there this fall, early in­di­ca­tions from most hun­ters sug­gests this sce­nario.

At the end of the day, each year is what it is. The hun­ters among us are go­ing any­way. It’s part of our life­style and a day in the fall, in the coun­try, whether we have two birds or a full limit, we are still go­ing.

It will still add up to a great day and a fine meal in the pot whether it’s a large pot, or a smaller one.

GARY SHAW/SPE­CIAL TO THE AURORA

A spruce grouse.

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