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Ruffed Grouse Drumming Ensemble: Music for the Ladies

Male ruffed grouse drumming is a fascinating courtship behavior. If you’re a female grouse, you gotta love the show the boys put on.

Ruffed grouse drumming and courtship displays are one of the more intriguing and dynamic spring rituals that take place in the northwoods. As male grouse put on their shows for the females, so too does it signal that spring is finally here.

They get up onto a drumming log to beat their wings in rapid-fire succession, puff out their neck feathers and fan their tails, and do their little dance. Well, it is quite a display they put on, and is sure to melt the heart of the most fickle females.

This first fellow gives quite a performance of drumming followed by an extended courtship display. He really gives it his all in attempting to woo a female.

This second male grouse gives us another view of the courtship walk, sans the drumming. His preening walk screams desperation and insistence. “If I cannot have my mate in the forest, I will call to her here on the road!”

This next series of drumming exercises seem like those of a young, inexperienced male trying it out for the first time. He steps gingerly, looks around hoping to spy a female, and makes a clumsy go of it. Next year he’ll do better.

Drumming behavior by male grouse is what population estimates are based upon. It is an imprecise science, with frequencies and durations of drumming varying from bird to bird, along with many other factors influencing the behavior. Still, it is seen as the primary indicator of tracking and estimating the population levels of ruffed grouse from year to year.

The drumming behavior is not “drumming” in the sense that something is struck. The only thing struck is the air itself. As the grouse beats his wings he creates a vacuum that is filled with air. The air that fills the vacuum over and over again generates a sound wave that can travel up to a quarter mile.

If you’re a female grouse, you’ve got to be impressed with this display. It is one of the most ostentatious performances in all of nature.

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Ruffed Grouse Drumming Ensemble: Music for the Ladies