How a Grouse Met Its End

This post contains photos of a dead animal.

On Tuesday my boss, who knows I’m interested in the problem we have on campus with birds hitting windows, mentioned to me that he’d noticed what he thought was a dead kestrel on the ground outside the boys’ dorm.

It wasn’t a kestrel.

The bird that met its end by braining itself on a dorm room window was, in fact, a Ruffed Grouse, Bonasa umbellus. I’d seen them in the woods around here, but never in the heart of campus where all the buildings and human activity are, so this came as a surprise.

As sad as it is to come across a dead creature like this – especially when humans contributed to its death – it’s also undeniably cool to get the chance to see a grouse up close. I was fascinated by the rows of yellow lobes running down the sides of its feet. What purpose could feet like this have…?

I’m still working with school administrators to figure out what’s most feasible to do with the windows to reduce bird strikes.  I’m confident we’ll get there eventually.


11 thoughts on “How a Grouse Met Its End”

  1. I almost hate to admit that of all the species of game that I have hunted, the only one I miss going hunting for is the ruffed grouse. That doesn’t mean I don’t love them when they are alive, I do! I love hearing the males drumming in the spring, it is one of the sure signs that good weather is on the way.

    They have a subtle beauty not many people can appreciate, they’re just a brown bird to most people.

    The one in your photos was probably a junevile looking for a range of its own, which is why it was on campus. They do tend to avoid humans if they can.

    I wish I had a solution to the window problem, but I don’t.

    1. To be clear, I have no problem with hunting as long as it’s done sustainably – hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited actually do a lot for conservation.

      I know, in theory, what we can do with the windows to cut down on the number of bird strikes – my idea at this point is to hang ribbons in front of problem windows, which, if they’re spaced correctly, can essentially eliminate 100% of bird strikes. It’s just a matter of working with the school bureaucracy to make it happen.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. My first thought about those yellow lobes is a sensory tool, to feel ground temperature or moisture or something. But why yellow? Indication of mating status? Distract a predator when they leap from the ground? Hmmm….

    Keep us updated on your quest for bird security!

    1. If I’m not mistaken, Ruffed Grouse sprout a growth of additional feathers on their feet in the winter to enable them to walk on soft snow. Could it be that those yellow lobes are the nascent “follicles” for that feather growth? Hmmm.

  3. Great question about the yellow on the feet. I will also look it up to see what its all about. Being able to walk on snow makes sense. Great question!

    You can visit any local wild-bird supply shop or your local audubon office. They should both sell decals/stickers that can be placed on windows which will help with the window strikes. Any stickers will work really, but bird shops typically sell decorative ones that are removable so they don’t ruin your windows and look appealing to people as well. They are usually silouettes of bird shapes or other natural items like leaves.
    Or the ribbons, flags, etc that others suggest would work. Anything to disrupt the reflectivity so that birds don’t look at it and think it’s an open space to fly through. Shiny/reflective things are not good, so I would not recommend using CDs.
    Turning off lights inside at night also makes an enormous difference.
    Even just simple things like having dirty windows versus super shiny clean windows makes a difference.

    You don’t even need to do this all over all the windows on every building. Just focus on the windows that are known for bird strikes. For example a window that faces south and has a lot of sun reflectivity. Or if you always find the dead birds on one side of a building, focus there. Young birds are also more susceptible to window strikes, so being extra cautious to masks windows when there are fledglings in the area.

    1. We already have a plan on how to do it and are tracking which windows on campus are particularly dangerous to birds. As I’ve mentioned, it’s just a matter of convincing the school administrators that it’s doable.

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