Dusky Grouse

Dendragapus obscurus

  • Version: 2.1 — Published August 27, 2018
  • Fred C. Zwickel and James F. Bendell

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Figure 1. Dusky Grouse distribution.
Definitive Basic male Dusky Grouse.

Relatively large and moderately long-tailed, grayish grouse. Males have highly specialized lateral cervical apteria (bare patches on the lower neck/upper breast) that are exposed during display. Supercilliary apteria (‘combs') of males change color from yellow to red during courtship display. The broad rectrices and dark outer two primaries and primary coverts, not more worn than the remaining primaries, identifies Definitive Basic (as opposed to Formative) Plumage in males.

© Steve Calver , Colorado , United States , 29 April 2013
Definitive Basic or Formative female Dusky Grouse.

Auriculars, sides of neck, chin, throat, and upper breast medium gray or brown, variably mottled whitish and pale brownish; mid-breast to vent lighter solid gray. Legs feathered to base of toes.

© James (Jim) Holmes , Colorado , United States , 1 May 2009

The Dusky Grouse is endemic to mountainous regions of interior western North America from central Yukon south to northern Arizona and New Mexico (Figure 1). Formerly considered the interior subspecies of the Blue Grouse, recent DNA evidence supported a split of the Blue Grouse into two species, the Dusky Grouse and the Sooty Grouse (see Systematics). The Dusky Grouse breeds in the continental shrub/steppe high desert and along the edges of open montane forests. The species overwinters in coniferous forest, where conifer needles comprise the main winter food. Its breeding distribution appears to be partly determined by the proximity of montane forest that is appropriate for use in winter. The Dusky Grouse shares physical and behavioral attributes with both ‘forest' and ‘prairie' grouse in the subfamily Tetraoninae.

Data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) suggest that from 1968–2015, Dusky Grouse populations increased 1.7% per year for the survey-wide region (1). Occupation of relatively inaccessible montane forests during much of the year may contribute to a generally healthy population status in many areas. However, this result should be viewed with caution given the low detection rates on the BBS.

Recommended Citation

Zwickel, F. C. and J. F. Bendell (2018). Dusky Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus), version 2.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.dusgro.02.1