“Why can’t that guy start his lawn mower,” Greg Kaiser said in reference to his first experience hearing a ruffed grouse drum in the spring. I’d made similar comments the first time I heard it, one spring in northwest Wisconsin. It took me a while to realize there wasn’t a small engine repair shop tucked back in the hardwoods.
That sound of an engine not quite firing up is actually a ruffed grouse during his annual spring mating display. The male grouse will perch himself on a log in an area rich with food, cover and, most importantly, females.
“They hop onto the log — it’s almost like their throne — it’s like they’re the kings of the area and this is their throne,” said Matt Soberg, Director of Communications for Ruffed Grouse Society. They beat their wings and make a really distinct drumming sound, almost like an old tractor starting up.”
A few weeks back, I was traveling to our family’s cabin in Wisconsin again and stopped to let my lab, Mika, out. We found a state trail and decided to go for a little walk. We hadn’t gotten ten feet when I heard the first drummer. Then a second started drumming behind us. Soon there were at least four different grouse all vying for the attention of any female within earshot. At that point I decided I was going to find a way to see it in person for the first time.
On Wednesday, that happened.
“People think they make that sound by beating their wings on their chest,” Soberg said. “What they actually do is they swing their wings so fast that it makes a small sonic boom. It’s the air pressure from their wings that makes that sound. It’s pretty amazing.”
We spent a few hours in the woods that morning and finally had a willing participant put on a good show. When you consider how far that sound travels and to see this small bird move his tiny little wings fast enough to create it, “amazing” is the right word for it.
Have you seen a grouse drumming in the woods? What other sights and sounds of spring are you seeing right now? I hear the morels are popping up, waterfowl nests are being built and prairie grouse are dancing on the leks. Share this story and comment to let us know what you’ve seen this spring.