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Upland Game Bird Species

Grouse in Oregon

Blue Grouse
  • Dusky Grouse Dendragapus obscurus
  • Sooty Grouse Dendragapus fuliginosus

Blue GrouseBlue grouse, an Oregon native, occupy the coniferous forests of western Oregon, the eastern slopes of the Cascades, the blue mountains of northeastern Oregon, and the Klamath Basin and south Warner Mountains. Preferred habitat includes timber edges, open timbered slopes and mountain meadows, often adjacent to springs or other sources of water. They may often be associated with berry producing areas such as chokecherry thickets. Recently, the American Ornithologists Union (the organization in charge of decisions about bird taxonomy) split the blue grouse species into two distinct species. Oregon is now home to dusky grouse in the north east and sooty grouse in the rest of the state. However, for management purposes the ODFW will continue to refer to these two species collectively as Blue grouse.

In western Oregon trend data shows a decline in population from the early 1970s which is believed largely to reflect changing forest habitat. In northeastern Oregon populations have been at higher than average levels during most of the 1980s although lower during the early 1990s. A blue grouse research project conducted in Wallowa County, that tracked birds marked with radio transmitters showed little impact from hunting in this heavily hunted area.

Effective hunting techniques involve walking ridges and the edges of timber patches. While generally a forestland species, blue grouse may sometimes be found on open slopes near timber if there is food, such as grasshoppers, that attracts them. Morning and evening hours are usually best as blue grouse often tend to loaf in trees, high off the ground, during mid-day.

Distribution Map (jpg)


Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse

Tympanuchus phasianus columbianus

Columbian Sharp-tailed GrouseColumbian sharp-tailed grouse were historically found in most counties of eastern Oregon. These birds preferred the bunchgrass prairies interspersed with streambottoms containing deciduous shrubs and trees. This habitat was particularly common in north-central Oregon and the Columbia Basin. These same areas were also attractive to early homesteaders which had converted most of the bunchgrass prairie to crop production by 1915. In 1929, Oregon closed its hunting season for sharp-tailed grouse and it has never re-opened. By the late 1960’s sharp-tailed grouse were believed to have been extirpated from Oregon.

Since its extirpation, personnel of state and federal agencies and by private citizens have expressed interest in the reintroduction of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse into Oregon. This species, one of very few extirpated from Oregon, was absent from the state for over 2 decades.

In 1985, a committee was formed to evaluate the potential to reintroduce Columbian sharp-tailed grouse into Oregon. As a result of the Committee’s efforts, a total of 230 birds were translocated from southeastern Idaho to Wallowa County, Oregon, between 1991 and 2002. In 2006 introductions were resumed and an additional 87 grouse from both Idaho and Utah have been released. Birds dispersed from the initial translocation site (Clear Lake Ridge) to the Leap Area north of Enterprise, OR. Consequently, subsequent releases were made at the Leap Area, a site used by birds from 1991 through present. Eventually leks (dancing or breeding grounds) were established at the Leap Area, with at least 2 active for 16 years. Lek counts and summer flush counts, since the last release indicate a small, persisting population of birds are found in Wallowa County. However, both lek counts and the summer flush counts indicate Columbian sharp-tailed grouse numbers declined after the 2003-04 winter. The availability of winter habitat, particularly access to deciduous shrubs and trees, is likely the most limiting factor for the birds in this area. The birds rely on buds and fruits trees and shrubs when snowcover limits feeding on the ground.

The department is working with other agencies, non-profit organizations, and private landowners, to continue to improve habitat for sharp-tailed grouse in Wallowa County. Progress is being made. With improved habitat and a limited number of augmentations to the existing population, it is hoped that Columbian sharp-tailed grouse will once again become a permanently established resident of Oregon.

Re-introducing Columbia sharp-tailed grouse


Greater Sage-Grouse

Centrocercus urophasianus

Greater Sage-grouseSage grouse were originally found through much of the sagebrush dominated areas of eastern Oregon, but were eliminated from large areas by the mid 1900s through conversion of land for agricultural purposes. There has been little change in sage grouse range, however since the 1950s.

Early accounts in annual reports of the state game warden, newspaper stories and other sources indicate sage grouse populations have fluctuated widely during the last century. There were periods of great scarcity when the extinction of the species was predicted, but there were also periods when numbers increased and hunting seasons were authorized. Peak populations apparently occurred around 1918, during the late 1940s and during the late 1950s. Systematic monitoring of sage grouse populations in Oregon did not begin until the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Since that time, populations varied annually until the early to mid-1970s when a decline in productivity was reflected in the number of grouse counted on survey routes. The number of chicks seen commonly made up a large proportion of the grouse counted on mid-summer production routes. The only measure of strictly the adult population (males on strutting grounds) showed no statistically significant change over time. Declining nest and brood survival may have been offset by increased adult survival. With localized variations, sage grouse have remained relatively stable or have increased over the past 20 years in Oregon.

As part of range-wide effort to conserve and manage sage grouse, in August 2005 the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a plan for the management of sage grouse. Management of sage grouse in Oregon will be a cooperative effort among government and private organizations and individuals. Implementation of the plan will use 5 local groups representing different geographic portions of the sage grouse range in Oregon.

Sage grouse have a somewhat lower level of productivity, but are generally longer-lived than most other upland species. Also, during dry years, they may be concentrated in the vicinity of water sources. Some populations may be subject to over-exploitation. This has been dealt with by allocating hunting pressure through the issuance of hunting permits assigned to specific hunt areas. This is proposed to continue.

Permits will be determined annually following spring lek counts and will be conservatively designed to take a small proportion of the estimated population, usually not to exceed five percent. Successful hunters are asked to return to ODFW one wing from each bird they harvest. These wings are used to gather valuable biological data.

Distribution Map (jpg)


Ruffed Grouse

Bonasa umbellus

Ruffed GrouseThe native ruffed grouse resides in most wooded sections of the state. It is a bird of the edge, preferring mixed hardwoods or a combination of hardwoods and conifers. Its abundance varies with the quality of the habitat, and fluctuates locally over time as the habitat changes through natural succession or alteration due to logging, fire, development and other factors. Ruffed grouse are most commonly found in brushy riparian areas in eastern Oregon and in early-aged mixed woodlands in western Oregon, although birds may be found in pockets of good habitat nearly anywhere.

In September, when most ruffed grouse hunting takes place in Oregon, ruffs are generally pretty close to water. This means creek bottoms and brushy swamps. Like most wildlife, ruffed grouse also like edges; edges of meadows, edges of clearcuts, and edges where brushy growth meets timber. They also like variety in their food and a dense thicket nearby for escape.

In eastern Oregon, look along creek bottoms which are heavily grown with dogwood, alder and aspen. There should be a good assortment of berries like currant, gooseberry, snowberry, elderberry, etc. There should also be fir trees adjacent to the creek bottoms. As one gets lower on the stream and the fir gives way to pine, there will usually be fewer grouse.

In western Oregon it is harder to locate good areas because there is so much good habitat, and birds are seldom concentrated in one area. Generally though, streams are worth investigating as are edges of clearcuts at lower elevations and other places that just look "birdy". Like gold, ruffed grouse are where you find them, and avid grouse hunters are like fishermen and mushroom pickers - not likely to tell you their favorite spots. Certain foods seem to attract birds from neighboring areas, and one of these is the Oregon crabapple, a native tree found west of the Cascades.

Distribution Map (jpg)


Spruce Grouse

Falcipennis canadensis

Spruce GrouseThe spruce grouse is native to Oregon and found in coniferous forests across northern North America. However, Oregon is on the periphery of this species range and likely was never abundant in the state. Currently, spruce grouse can only be found in the Wallowa Mountains and Snake River divide of northeastern Oregon. Spruce grouse have been protected in Oregon for more than 45 years, with no open hunting season.

In recent years, the department has been seeking help from the public and to report observations of spruce grouse they may encounter. These observations, along with those reported by state and federal biologists are being used to map the current distribution of this species in the state.

ODFW is also working with Enterprise High School biology teacher, Mike Baird, to band and put radio transmitters on spruce grouse in the Wallowa Mountains. This pilot project is designed to learn more about spruce grouse abundance and movements. Mr. Baird has involved his biology class in the trapping and tracking of marked birds.

Spruce Grouse Project


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