Sooty Grouse in the backyard

I stepped outside the door to go hiking on the Tahoe Rim Trail near sunset, and ran into a family of Sooty Grouse (hen and four young).  For those who know their birds, these used to be called Blue Grouse, and they do have a small amount of blue showing on their breast feathers.  But overall, this bird does an amazing job of blending into its coniferous forest floor background.

Mother hen led her offspring across the road and up into the forest.

Note how well the young grouse blends into the background.

Sooty Grouse live in montane foothills, near the coniferous border, and range from northern British Columbia along the coast to northern California and all along the Sierra Nevada mountains.  They are permanent residents where they occur, but have the strange habit of actually going to higher altitudes in the winter (contrary to most other species).  They are quite omnivorous in the summer, eating a varied diet of insects, berries, and leaves, but in winter they subsist on a diet of Douglas fir, hemlock, and pine needles.  In order to balance their winter energy budget on such an indigestible diet, their gut elongates and they grow a large fermentation chamber in the part of the gut analagous to our appendix (theirs is called a cecum).

To maintain their cryptic coloration in the winter, their newly molted feathers are a grayish white color, so they blend nicely into the winter snow.

In the spring, the male molts new, bright brown and gray feathers, and develops brightly colored vocal pouches on either side of their neck which they inflate while spreading their tail and parading in front of the female.

photo from Avian Web