The blue grouse can be a bit confusing, as it is now commonly known by three different names, and all of them are correct. (Photo by: Ivan_Yim/Shutterstock.com)
Also, a member of the Phasianidae family, the Blue Grouse was split into two different species a few years ago: the Sooty Grouse (Dendragapus Obscurus) and the Dusky Grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus). Both species are found in the northwestern part of North America and were first identified and recorded by Lewis and Clark during their voyage of discovery.
Range of blue tetras
The sooty grouse is the species that was once known as the “blue grouse” before being split into two separate species. It is the most westerly species, its population being restricted to a few states and one Canadian province on the west coast. Most birds in the United States are found along the coastal regions of Washington, Oregon, and northwestern California. Their range also includes most of the eastern edge of California and parts of Alaska. Its Canadian range includes the entire coast of British Columbia.
The Dusky Grouse, on the other hand, is a bird of the Rocky Mountains, although its range is also somewhat limited. Although this bird inhabits many of the same states and provinces as the sooty grouse, their ranges do not overlap, although they are quite close in some areas. In the United States, the dusky grouse is found in parts of extreme eastern Washington, western Montana, the northern half of Idaho, most of Wyoming, much of Colorado and Utah and far northern New Mexico. A few small pockets of them can also be found in Nevada. In Canada, they inhabit a wide swath of central British Columbia, extending into the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
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Blue Grouse Biology and Habitat
The sooty grouse is a large bird that ranges in length from 15 to 20 inches when fully grown. The male is gray to sooty gray in color, with a red to yellowish crest over the eyes. The yellow neck bag is surrounded by white feathers. Females are lighter mottled brown in color with a dark tail.
The Dusky Grouse is similar in size and somewhat similar in appearance. Males are a steel blue-gray with purplish air sacs in the neck, also surrounded by white feathers and red crests.
Regarding the types of habitats, the black grouse lives in mountainous forests composed of lodgepole and ponderosa pines, aspens and firs. Birds survive on a simple diet of plants and insects. The sooty grouse, on the other hand, is found in scrubby areas of tropical coastal rainforests, burnt areas, montane forests, and subalpine forest glades. During the warmer months, they feed on seeds, berries, and insects, turning to conifer needles to survive the colder winter months.
Females of both species build ground nests to lay their eggs and hatch their chicks. After breeding, female sooty grouse lay five to 10 eggs (sometimes up to a dozen), which are incubated by the female for only 25-28 days. Female dusky grouse lay a similar number of eggs and incubate them for the same amount of time. The young are also able to follow the female away from the next soon after hatching.
Based on estimates of the North American Breeding Bird Survey, black grouse populations have been stable since 1966, with an estimated population of around 200,000 birds. While the sooty grouse population experienced a loss of more than 50% from 1968 to 2015, their numbers still significantly outnumber the black grouse with a global breeding population of around 2 million.
Blue grouse hunting
Sooty grouse and dark grouse can be hunted along with ruffed grouse and spruce grouse during the regular fall grouse hunting season in Washington. Hunting of both species is also permitted in Oregon, as well as in California from mid-September to mid-October. Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Nevada all have black grouse hunting seasons.
While dusky and sooty grouse can be hunted by many of the same means as spruce grouse and other forest grouse, many people choose to hunt them without dogs due to their tendency to hang around in trees or fly into trees when chased. Hunters with pointers, however, have some success with birds in some parts of their range.
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One of the weirdest aspects of sooty grouse hunting is a special spring season for the bird in Alaska. During this season, which occurs during the “Spring Hoot”, hunters pursue these birds by walking through likely areas and listening for the male’s breeding “hoot”. During this time of year, males tend to hoot from sunrise to sunset, so those who cover a lot of ground are likely to find a bird or two.
As with all game bird species, always check the regulations of the area where you intend to hunt before setting off. This is especially true for sooty and dusky tetras, as regulations vary widely from state to state.