The Spruce Grouse is a beautiful bird that occurs in taiga and montane coniferous forests throughout northern portions of North America. Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition described the Spruce Grouse as “gentle”, which is why it has often been referred to as the “fool hen.” Owing to its remote breeding range and inconspicuous behavior, the species has not received much research attention relative to most other species of grouse.
Across its vast range, the Spruce Grouse appears to fall into two distinct plumage types with some corresponding differences in behavior. The southwestern Spruce Grouse, which primarily occupies montane forests of northeastern Oregon, Washington, northern Idaho, western Montana, southeastern Alaska, southwestern Alberta, and the southern two-thirds of British Columbia) currently consists of two subspecies (F. c. franklinii and F. c. isleibi). The other Spruce Grouse type makes up the majority of the distribution throughout the taiga and currently includes all the other subspecies. For simplicity sake, these two types will be referred to as the Franklin’s Spruce Grouse and Canada Spruce Grouse, respectively.
Largely herbivorous, the Spruce Grouse is a conifer specialist that feeds predominantly on the needles of pine (Pinus), fir (Abies), and spruce (Picea) through much of the year. Populations fluctuate over time, primarily in response to forest maturation following disturbance, and secondarily to depredation. There are few bird species as strongly linked to the direct and indirect effects of climate change and forest management.