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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote ® Spruce Grouse

Air Date: Week of

A female Spruce Grouse. (Photo: © Todd and Conni Katke)

A chicken-like bird living in the boreal forest south of the arctic, the Spruce Grouse, survives the cold winter by eating nothing but pine needles. Michael Stein reports.


CURWOOD: Well, it's that time of year when the smell of fresh pine and spruce fills the air of many homes. And the conifers that get adorned for Christmas come from a stock of evergreens that makes it possible for one tough bird to survive. Here's Michael Stein with today's Birdnote®.


STEIN: In the boreal forest – the broad expanse of forest lying south of the Arctic – winter temperatures routinely drop to 30 below zero. [Chill, winter wind] Birds that spend the winter in this harsh domain of spruce, pine, and other conifers rely on remarkable adaptations in order to survive. The Spruce Grouse is one such bird. Most Spruce Grouse – rotund, chicken-like birds that weigh about a pound – remain here all year.


A Spruce Grouse on the ground. (Photo: © Todd and Conni Katke)

STEIN: In the snow-free summer, they forage on the ground, eating fresh greenery, insects, and berries. But in the snowy winter, the grouse live up in the trees, eating nothing but conifer needles. Lots and lots of needles.


STEIN: Simple enough, right? Just keep eating. But conifer needles are both low in protein, and tough to digest because they’re heavy in cellulose. To meet the energy demands of winter on needles alone, Spruce Grouse – this may seem hard to believe – grow a bigger digestive system. Their ventriculus – or gizzard – which grinds food, may enlarge by 75%. So remember the hardy Spruce Grouse this holiday season.


(Photo: © Todd and Connie Katke)

STEIN: As you stand back to admire a Christmas tree, somewhere in the northern forest a grouse is nibbling away at such a tree – one needle at a time. I’m Michael Stein.


Written by Bob Sundstrom

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Spruce Grouse [2389] recorded by H. Lumsden. Ambient created from Boreal Chickadee [77204] recorded by C.A. Marantz.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2012 Tune In to Nature.org December 2012 Narrator: Michael Stein

CURWOOD: There are some pictures of chubby Spruce Grouse over at our website - LOE dot org.





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