Scientific Name: Bonasa umbelius
Classification: Game Species
Abundance: Found in western NC; northern Piedmont (green area)
Ruffed grouse - gray morph (Photo: Wikipedia)
The ruffed grouse is North America’s most widely distributed upland game bird and North Carolina's only grouse species. Ruffed grouse are found throughout most of Canada, much of the eastern United States and portions of the Rocky Mountains in the West. In North Carolina, ruffed grouse are found in western North Carolina and a few northern Piedmont counties.
Ruffed grouse are medium-sized birds with dark bars and spotted plumage that make them well camouflaged when in their preferred habitat of young forests. Ruffed grouse can be found in many different forest types in North America, although deciduous or mixed forest types with scattered clearings are preferred. They also live along forested streams and in areas growing back from burning or logging.
Ruffed grouse have two distinct morphs - gray and brown. When gray, ruffed grouse have a gray-brown head, neck and back with a light, barred breast. The underside and flanks are mostly white, giving them a variegated appearance. The tail is brownish gray as well, with barring and a broad, black band near the end of the tail. Brown-morph grouse have tails of the same color and pattern but the rest of their plumage is much more brown with less light plumage below. Ruffed grouse also have a black ruff around their neck. While their plumage makes them difficult to see and find, ruffed grouse can more often be heard when they are "drumming," a sound that many liken to an engine trying to start. Males drum most frequently in the morning
The ruffed grouse is a game species.
2017-2021 Grouse Hunting and Harvest Maps (PDF)
1949-2021 Grouse Harvest and Hunter Trends (PDF)
There are nine species of resident small game in North Carolina including, three species of rabbits (Eastern cottontail, Appalachian cottontail, and marsh rabbit), three squirrels (fox, red and gray squirrels) and three birds (quail, grouse and pheasants). Many differences exist between the species including their distributions, abundances, and future conservation challenges. Information about other types of small game species, including woodcock, doves, groundhogs, etc., can be found in other parts of this website.
Habitat changes over the past 40-50 years have presented the greatest challenge to management, and for the most part, have been detrimental to small game. Conservation challenges include urban growth, habitat fragmentation, exotic plants and insects, incompatible farming and forestry practices, and unchecked forest succession. Currently, undisturbed maturing forest conditions are beneficial for most squirrel species. However, habitats are deteriorating for bobwhite quail and grouse which are dependent upon early successional conditions. Remnant populations of pheasants, a non-native gamebird, also continue to decline on the Outer Banks where larger populations once existed.
In situations where habitat is created for these species, small game populations are often quick to respond due to their high reproductive rates and ability to colonize new areas. To address recent declines of these species dependent on early successional habitat, the Wildlife Resource commission has developed programs such as the CURE (Cooperative Upland Habitat Restoration and Enhancement) program.
Many people hunt small game species in North Carolina. Each year approximately 150,000 sportsmen/ sportswomen take more than 1.0 million trips afield in pursuit of resident small game species. Based on a survey of hunters during a recent hunting season, it was estimated that hunters harvested approximately 8,750 grouse, 230,000 quail, 382,500 rabbits, and 482,000 squirrels in North Carolina.
Sandy Mush Game Land Birding Check List (PDF)
Green River Game Land Birding Check List (PDF)
Ruffed Grouse Conservation Plan (PDF)
Attention Avid Bird Hunters! The Wildlife Commission needs your help tracking wildlife by filling out quail and grouse surveys. Learn more!