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