Sooty Grouse

Dendragapus fuliginosus

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

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

Relatively large and moderately long-tailed, grayish grouse. Males have highly specialized yellow cervical apteria that are exposed during 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. Note the superciliary aptera above the eye, which turn from yellow to bright red during display.

© Steve Calver , Washington , United States , 15 May 2017

The Sooty Grouse is endemic to mountainous regions in western North America from south-coastal Alaska and northwestern British Columbia south to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and westernmost Nevada (Figure 1). Formerly considered the coastal subspecies of the Blue Grouse, recent DNA evidence supported a split of the Blue Grouse into two species, the Sooty Grouse and the Dusky Grouse. The Sooty Grouse occupies a range of breeding habitats from coastal rain forest to subalpine/alpine forest. Virtually all populations overwinter in conifer 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 Sooty Grouse shares physical and behavioral attributes with both ‘forest' and ‘prairie' grouse in the subfamily Tetraoninae.

Sooty Grouse can attain high population densities and remains distributed throughout most of its historic range. Even so, data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey suggest that the survey-wide population decreased by 1.8% per year from 1968–2015 (1), although detection rates are low and results should be viewed with caution. Additional information is needed on population numbers and trends.

Recommended Citation

Zwickel, F. C. and J. F. Bendell (2018). Sooty Grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus), version 2.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.