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Spruce Grouse 1915

An image from an article in a 1915 issue of National Audobon Society's "Bird-lore" magazine about an encounter with a family of Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) along Shingle Shanty Brook. The author was Roy Chapman Andrews, noted adventurer and naturalist who became the director of the American Museum of Natural History. Click the image above to read the article (PDF).

Spruce Grouse Detail

Detail of a male Adirondack Spruce Grouse. The red patches above the eyes are a distinguishing feature. Photo by Angelena Ross. All rights reserved.

Additional Reading

Spruce Grouse - Cornell Lab of Ornithology

A Rare Sighting - Adirondack Explorer Outtakes

Spruce Grouse Habitat Model - USFWS

Spruce Grouse Distribution - NYS Breeding Bird Atlas

Spruce Grouse Fact Sheet - NYSDEC

Conservation Assessment for Spruce Grouse - USDA Forest Service

Management of Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) in Northern New York - St. Lawrence University Department of Biollogy

Productivity of the Spruce Grouse at the Southeastern Limit of its Range - Journal of Field Ornithology

Spruce Grouse Continental Conservation Plan - Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Resident Game Bird Working Group

Spruce Grouse in Habitat Patches in the Adirondack Mountains: Dispersal vs. Rarity

A Strategy to Save Spruce Grouse - Albany Times Union / AP

Adirondack Spruce Grouse Female

Female Adirondack Spruce Grouse. Photo by Glenn Johnson. All rights reserved.

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Spruce Grouse in the Adirondacks

The Adirondacks are home to various boreal bird species that are at the southern extent of their range, and among the most vulnerable is the Spruce Grouse. Unlike most other bird species that can fly significant distances, the Spruce Grouse doesn't travel more than 6-7 miles and is therefore unable to easily move between isolated patches of suitable habitat.

Known as the "Fool Hen" for its lack of wariness, Spruce Grouse populations were likely greatly reduced by subsistence hunting during the 19th century. While early 20th century game laws addressed the overhunting of numerous species, including the Spruce Grouse, populations didn't rebound. One of the most persisistent and serious problems facing the Spruce Grouse is the lack of suitable habitat. Spruce Grouse are a species that requires boreal habitat with a predominance of young conifers. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries the greatest threat to the habitat of the Spruce Grouse was the destruction of boreal habitat by logging and fires. With logging greatly reduced and much more land protected from cutting in the Forest Preserve, it is now, ironically, the maturation of boreal habitat that poses the more significant threat to Spruce Grouse.

The most recent estimate is that there are 100-200 Spruce Grouse left in the Adirondacks. Genetic studies comparing the DNA of modern Spruce Grouse in the Adirondacks show that individuals are genetically very similar. In contrast, individuals collected in the 19th century and from areas with larger populations show a great deal of genetic diversity.

Spruce Grouse Displaying

A male Adirondack Spruce Grouse in the midst of a flutter flight display, spring 2011. Photo by Angelena Ross. All rights reserved.

Spruce Grouse at Shingle Shanty Preserve

With over 1700 acres of boreal wetlands, Shingle Shanty Preserve has extensive habitat that should be able to support a population of Spruce Grouse. Indeed, Spruce Grouse have historically been present in the boreal wetlands, although it seems that by the early 20th century they were already rare. In 1915, the naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews wrote an article about encountering a female Spruce Grouse and her chicks along Shingle Shanty Brook. In this article, a copy of which is linked to on this page, he notes "I was too startled to move at first, and too excited, for there was no doubt that it was a Spruce Grouse, now so rare, at least in this portion of the Adirondacks, that one has not been seen in years on the Brandreth Preserve."

This observation from 1915 about the rarity of Spruce Grouse in Shingle Shanty Preserve is just as true today. Spruce Grouse were seen with some regularity through the 1960s, but since then observations have been exceedingly rare. The most recent probable sighting was in 2009, when researchers caught a fleeting glimpse of a grouse with a distinctive red patch on its head. Prior to that, the last confirmed sighting was in the 1980s.

Researchers have visited the Preserve on numerous occassions in recent years to search for Spruce Grouse, but have been unable to determine that there is a breeding population. The closest confirmed population is at the Massawepie Mire, 17 miles away.

ssprs-adirondacks

Searching for Spruce Grouse sign, May 2010.

Saving the Spruce Grouse in the Adirondacks

The Spruce Grouse is in trouble all along the southern edge of its range. In response to the precipitous decline of the species, various states and organizations have taken steps to help save the Spruce Grouse. in 1992 the Spruce Grouse Recovery Team was formed in New York, and in summer 2011 a Spruce Grouse Recovery Plan is scheduled to be released.

One strategy being considered is to capture Spruce Grouse from areas where they are relatively abundundant such as in Canada, and releasing them into suitable habitat not currently occupied by Spruce Grouse. This technique has been used in Vermont to augment that state's population of Spruce Grouse. Videos on Vermont's efforts are below.

Shingle Shanty Preserve, with its historical presence of Spruce Grouse, extensive boreal habitat, and the abiliity to manage habitat for the benefit of rare species has been identified as a prime location to release Spruce Grouse.

 

Above is a pair of videos about Vermont's efforts to bolster the state's Spruce Grouse population by capturing them from elsewhere and releasing them into suitable habitat. This technique is being considered to help bolster New York's population of Spruce Grouse.