Wildlife Portfolio of the Western National Parks
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THE FEMALE SIERRA GROUSE is about one-third smaller than the cock, which averages 21-1/2 inches in length, and has a general brownish color with a light gray terminal tip of the tail which is characteristic of both sexes. A close view (see illustration) shows that the female's plumage has a complex pattern caused by light gray patches on the margins and tips of the feathers. This "broken" type of color pattern tends to conceal the bird amid the broken patches of light and shadow of its forest home. I have repeatedly been within 15 or 20 feet of this grouse and still unable, because of this concealing coloration, to see it until it moved.

At Cahoon Meadow, Sequoia National Park, on July 2, 1933, soon after sunup, I watched a female Sierra grouse lead her large brood of eight downy chicks out of a white fir thicket and feed along the margin of the meadow. These chicks were difficult to see in the dense grass except when they jumped up off the ground after small insects, chiefly gnats and flies, as was demonstrated by catching one of the youngsters. Upon hearing her captured chick's cry of distress, the mother grouse fluffed out her feathers, spread her wings and tail like an irate setting hen, and flew directly at me. After the first attack, the mother tried to lure me away from the chicks by crawling off as though wounded. Upon hearing their mother's alarm, the chicks scattered in every direction and hid in the grass.

By continued observation, I found that this family drank water only once a day but that they imbibed 35 times within a period of 5 minutes.

Sierra grouse are very fond of grasshoppers, which they stalk in a deliberate fashion. One grouse that I watched in the act of stalking a grasshopper saw the insect several feet distant. Immediately the bird stretched out its neck, kept its head and bill close to the ground, and moved slowly and quietly in a straight line until about 18 inches from the insect. Here there was a brief pause. Then, making a sudden rush, the bird grasped its prey in his bill before the grasshopper had a chance to even jump off the ground.

Outside of the national parks this species has been so reduced by shooting that, in November 1936, a request was made by the California Division of Fish and Game to the National Park Service for two settings of eggs to be used for experimental hatching purposes. They hoped that the species might, through artificial propagation, be restored on certain areas where it had become almost extinct.


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Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010