Category Archives: Upland Ground Birds

Gambel’s Quail – Callipepla Gambelii

General: Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii) are plump, volleyball shaped birds whose preference for remaining on the ground stems from their inability to fly fast or for extended periods of time. These social birds reside in desert habitats of the American southwest and can be found hiding amongst shrubbery and dense, varied desert vegetation. A popular game bird, Gambel’s Quail populations are healthy because of reproductive success. They are categorized as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Description: Gambel’s Quail are plump, round birds with short, square tails and wings, stout necks, and petite heads and bills. They are best known for their comma-shaped plume that sits atop both males’ and females’ heads, although males’ plumes tend to be fuller. They reach a mature length of just under 10” and weight of 5.5 oz. to 7 oz, and have a wingspan of 13.5” to almost 14.5”1.

Gambel’s Quail have chestnut/gray bodies, olive wings, cream bellies and white or cream markings. Their richly patterned plumage provides camouflage from predators. Quail living in areas with greater rainfall tend to be darker and more vivid overall. Sexual dimorphism is also evident. Males have black faces, necks and patches on their breasts, fuller darker plumes, and are generally more striking than females, who tend to be grayer with thinner plumes and no black markings. Juveniles are mottled in gray and brown and have miniature head plumes.

Gambel’s Quail are known to hybridize with California Quails as well as Scaled Quails, although it is not common2.

Although Gambel’s Quail are diurnal, they rest during the heat of midday in shady areas. In cooler temperatures, quail tend to be active for longer periods of time. These social birds spend much of their time walking in groups, called coveys, of 12 or more birds3. They are fast runners and tend to remain on the ground. They only fly when necessary, in short, explosive bursts but prefer to lay motionless and camouflaged to escape from predators.

Gambel’s Quail live in coveys that generally contain a mature pair and up to 16 young4. These coveys have specific home ranges that they do not defend; rather covey’s home ranges tend to overlap.

Gambel’s Quail communicate with a number of calls. In addition to clucking and chattering, they emit a loud, high pitched “ka-KAA-ka,”5 and a plaintive qua-el6.

Gambel’s Quail live, on average, 7.4 years in the wild7.

Habitat: Gambel’s Quail may be found in hot deserts, thickets, mesquite springs, mountain foothills, river valleys, shrublands, grasslands, plains, and fields throughout the American Southwest. They prefer areas with brush and diverse vegetation and to be in close proximity to a water source, although they have minimal, if any, free water requirements8. Areas with dense desert shrubbery and trees offer shade and protection to Gambel’s Quail during the day and a place to roost at night. Predators within their native habitats include snakes, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and birds of prey.

Gambel’s Quail do not migrate and their annual movements typically do not exceed 1.5 miles.

Location: Gambel’s Quail are found in desert thickets and shrublands9 in the southwestern U.S., especially in Arizona. Populations may also be found in parts of Mexico, Texas, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and California. There are small, non-native populations living in Hawaii, introduced beginning in 192810.

Diet: Gambel’s Quail are group foragers and feed twice a day, moving slowly along the ground in the morning and afternoon. Approximately 90% of their diet consists of plant matter, which they scratch up from beneath vegetation. They also consume seeds and leaves year round. Gambel’s Quail will eat insects during the spring and early summer, while partaking in reproductive activities. They also eat fruit, berries, and cacti during certain seasons and in certain geographic areas11.

Reproduction: Gambel’s Quail reach sexual maturity by one year of age, breed once annually and are generally considered monogamous. However, females have been observed leaving their young with the male in order to find a new mate and have a new brood. Reproductive success is affected mainly by two factors: temperature and rainfall. During years of above average temperatures and greater than normal rainfall, these birds experience reproductive success and, therefore, population growth (due in part to increased plant growth and food supplies.) These ideal breeding conditions oppose the usual dry, arid habitat of the Gambel’s Quail.

To attract their mates, male Gambel’s Quail give small offerings of food to females. Studies have shown that males who exhibit faster rates of food offering, also called “tidbitting,” tend to have greater reproductive success.

Females tend to choose nesting sites that are hidden or in a protected place on the ground, although quail nests can be located up to nearly 30’ off the ground if conditions allow. These nests are shallow and broad, often measuring 5” to 7” wide and are lined with feathers, leaves, or vegetation.

Between 10 to 12 smooth white eggs are laid, camouflaged with brown splotches. During dry years, clutches tend to be smaller. Female Gambel’s Quail do the majority of incubation, lasting between 21 and 23 days on average, although males will assume incubation duties if the female leaves the nest or dies. Down-covered young are able to follow their mothers, run and feed soon after birth, and both parents participate in caring for the young. In the event that one parent leaves the brood or dies, a single parent is capable of caring for the young quail12.

Notes of Interest: The Gambel’s Quail is a popular game bird. Hunters enjoy a long season with few restrictions and are able to bag up to 15 birds in a single day13.


Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

Common Names – Timberdoodle, woody, bog snipe

Organizations working for woodcock conservation are: Ruffed Grouse Society, National Audobon Society

Woodcock Description -The woodcock is a small, rotund bird with a long bill and large eyes positioned far back on the head. Well camouflaged, the woodcock is mottled with brown, black and rust colors, and has black barring across the top of the head. The sexes bear a close resemblance, although the female is slightly larger and has a longer bill. Juveniles resemble adults by early fall. Woodcock are solitary birds, however, they may be found in small groups during the spring and fall migration. Click here for Woodcock identification tips from the U.S.G.S.

Woodcock Size – Males measure 10 to 11 inches long and weigh 4 � to 7 ounces; females, 11 to 12 inches and 6 to 9 ounces.

Woodcock Habitat
– Woodcock are migratory birds. They range over much of the eastern half of the United States and Canada. The birds favor moist woodlands with streams and swampy areas. Click on for information on woodcock habitat management from the University of Georgia

Woodcock Food – This bird feeds almost exclusively on earthworms, grubs and other invertebrates, using its long bill to probe in soft soil. The bill has a flexible tip, and the tongue and upper mandible are rough, letting the bird grasp its food underground. Because its eyes are set so far back on the head, the woodcock can easily spot predators while feeding.

Woodcock Breeding – The male is known for its courtship flight. After arriving on the breeding grounds, he establishes and defends a territory, usually along the edge of a field or woodland opening, The courtship flight, performed at dawn and dusk, begins on the ground with the male making “bzzt, bzzt, bzzt” sounds while strutting about and bobbing his head. Click to listen to a woodcock call. Next, he flies vertically in decreasing spirals, levels off and circles high above the, finally descending to the ground while uttering chickaree, chickaree calls. The male usually mates with more than one female

The female nests and raises the young on her own. The nest is a shallow depression in the ground, near a bush, tree or thicket that is scraped by the female. She usually lays three to four buff colored eggs that hatch in twenty-one days.

Woodcock Population – Declining – logging and land development on the bird’s breeding grounds is responsible for the diminishing bird count. Click for recent population trends for woodcock and conservation go to Aududon Society Watchlist or American Woodcock Status as of June 2003 from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
For additional information on the American Woodcock:
Woodcock information and population studies from Pennsylvania Game Commission
Wildlife information series Woodcock from Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection

Woodcock Hunting – The principal breeding range of these upland birds reaches across eastern Minnesota, Ontario, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Maine. Sizable, but smaller, breeding populations spend the summer in Ohio and to the east, from parts of New England down to West Virginia. Few of the birds breed in latitudes below that, but most of them winter in the Southeast, as far south as central Florida and across the Gulf Coast into eastern Texas. The most enormous wintering concentrations are found in Louisiana.

The birds migrate along three main flyways – one down the Atlantic Seaboard, one west of the Appalachians, and one through the Mississippi Valley. The middle corridor is used by the largest numbers of woodcock, but there’s woodcock hunting (and usually good hunting) in nearly 40 states and also in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. New Brunswick rivals Louisiana as a famous haven for woodcock and woodcock hunters. The yearly woodcock, are also impressive in Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey.

The birds migrate along three main flyways – one down the Atlantic Seaboard, one west of the Appalachians, and one through the Mississippi Valley. The middle corridor is used by the largest numbers of woodcock, but there’s woodcock hunting (and usually good hunting) in nearly 40 states and also in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. New Brunswick rivals Louisiana as a famous haven for woodcock and woodcock hunters. The yearly woodcock, are also impressive in Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey.

Migration is accomplished principally by a long chain of short flights, but here and there along the way, open water or a lack of good habitat necessitates flights requiring great stamina. The birds tend to gather in “staging areas” and rest before undertaking these nonstop flights. Thus, large numbers of woodcock gather in well known locations, resting, feeding heavily to build strength, and perhaps awaiting good flying weather. Probably the most famous of these spots is Cape May, New Jersey, where great swarms of woodcock rest during the hunting season before making the long crossing over Delaware Bay. To anyone familiar with typical woodcock coverts, the bushy barrens behind the Cape May beaches look like mediocre habitat at best, but the hunting there can be marvelous.

Woodcock are protected by the federal regulations governing the hunting of migratory birds. The open seasons are therefore set within federal guidelines, and these seasons are timed to coincide with the presence of “flight birds” as well as “natives”.

Usually (though certainly not invariably) woodcock flush close. They’re not very fast fliers, and if you hit one with only a couple of pellets, it will fall. Why, then, are woodcock missed so often? For one thing, the target is small – hardly bigger than an average man’s fist. For another, it will most often rise steeply and erratically, veering from side to side, sometimes spiraling like a corkscrew before leveling and flicking away. There’s also the difficulty inherent in one very common type of woodcock habitat – high brush, dense alder runs, or some other thicket of shrubs and saplings. Many woodcock are taken in cover not quite that dense, but dense enough to present a gun-swinging problem. Hence, it helps to have a light, short-barreled gun.

The brown and black mottling of a woodcock’s plumage is almost invisible when a bird is on the ground, whether it’s in brushy vegetation or sitting right in the open on a brown forest mat of leaves and twigs. When I walk in over a dog’s point, I mentally draw a line from the animal’s nose to give myself a clearer notion of where the bird will rise. Even so, I’m often a little surprised when a woodcock goes up closer than I expect or occasionally farther away or off to one side. Flushes can be still more surprising when you’re without a dog. Sometimes you hear a bird before you see it. The air passing through and around the three narrow outer primaries of each wing makes a light, twittering whistle (a sound some hunters mistakenly believe to be a vocally produced call). With or without a dog, I use my ears as well as my eyes to hunt. I also do a lot of ground watching because, even in fairly thick cover, it’s often possible to see a woodcock whirring upward but still very close to the ground. Those you’re slow to see are the ones most often missed.

The woodcock’s long, slim bill is the most reliable way to tell a male from a female, whether you’re truly interested or just want to impress a hunting companion. A male’s bill is rarely longer than 2 � inches; a female’s almost always exceeds 2 � inches. A male usually has a smaller body, too. In early October, a typical male weighs just a trifle more than 5 � ounces, while a typical female weighs 7 ounces or a little more.

That peculiar bill whose flexible upper mandible hinges open and shut about midway out from the head is used to drill into the ground for earthworms. Very sensitive nerve endings in the bill enable the bird to feel for its hidden prey, and perhaps to sense it in some other way akin to taste or smell. Another reason for a woodcock hunter to be a ground-watcher is that a sprinkling of little round “borings” or “drill holes” in a small area indicates a promising covert where birds have been feeding heavily. Another kind of sign, much more easily and often spotted, is woodcock “chalk”-white spatters of liquid droppings about an inch across, quite conspicuous on the ground, on dry leaves, or on still-green undergrowth.

Many hunters who have seen the birds flying at dusk believe that woodcock are strictly nocturnal feeders, flushed during daylight only from the resting, watering, and hiding places. The birds do feed at night, but they also feed very actively at dawn, noon, and dusk. Early morning, midday, and late afternoon are good times to hunt the food-rich spots, and at other times the brush and woods are promising. However, the best habitat usually has a close mixture of feeding and resting grounds-which are often one and the same. In productive habitat, therefore, I’ve never found that the time of day mattered a great deal.

Good habitat has a birdy look about it. Bear in mind that the birds must have water and worms. Also bear in mind that worms don’t comprise their entire diet, except perhaps for short periods or in unusually worm-rich earth. They also eat insects and a few seeds and berries (among which, sedge seeds and blackberries are their favorites). Look for seeps, springs, brooks, and marshy bottomlands. Look for dark, soft earth with shrubs, young trees, and openings as well as thickets. Alders and young birches are well known for woodcock flushes because they grow in the right kind of soil and are the right size. The best stands of trees are only 10 to 20 feet high, growing close and rather tangled for concealment purposes, but with open or light ground cover so that the birds can drill for worms. In New Brunswick, most woodcock are flushed from alders, gray birches, and evergreens. A study in Maine showed nearly half of all flushes to be in alder runs. A Pennsylvania study indicated that when the birds weren’t in the alder bottoms, they were mostly on slopes with lots of crabapple or hawthorne. In Louisiana, the woodcock are mostly moved from among pines or alluvial bottomlands.

Where the types of coverts just described are lacking, or if they fail to produce flushes, other bird-attracting spots can be sought. The woodcock is closely related to the snipe and belongs to an order of shorebirds, but evolution has adapted it to a more or less upland life and a dependence on earthworms. Life in the uplands governs some of its behavior patterns. For example, on hot fall days, woodcock seek the humid coolness of deeply shaded resting places, and they’re often flushed from beneath evergreens. In cool weather, they’re often up on sun-warmed slopes, especially slopes that have concealing stands of birch or aspen. Bogs are a common type of shorebird habitat, and boggy fields often have worm-rich earth, so woodcock frequent such fields if escape cover is nearby. Sometimes they’re also found on cropland-for instance, cornfields adjacent to alders or similar cover. In old orchards, the fallen apples enrich the soil; I don’t know if the richness is what attracts worms, but usually they can be found there in abundance. Old orchards are good places to check for woodcock in the fall and dig for bait in the spring. So are overgrown pastures, where cows, rather than apple trees, drop an enrichment upon the soil.

For Woodcock hunting season and other hunter information check out:

Woodcock hunting information and population status from Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse – Bonasa umbellus


Ruffed Grouse Society providing grouse habitat management and information
Magazine about grouse and other upland bird hunting –

Ruffed Grouse DescriptionLearn how to identify Ruffed Grouse, its life history, cool fact

-The ruffed grouse is identified by its tail with a black band near the end and the patch of feathers “ruffs” on the neck.

The birds have two distinct color phases, both of which may occur in the same family. The red phase predominates in the southern part of the range; the gray phase, in the northern part and at high altitudes. Red-phase birds have a mottled, brownish body and chestnut-colored tail. Gray-phase birds have a mottled, grayish body and gray tail.

Males are identified by the unbroken black tail band. In females, this band is less distinct on the central two feathers (below). On both sexes, the legs are feathered down to the base of the toes. Juveniles resemble adults by fall, although they are slightly smaller. For further descriptions of Grouse click on Ruffed Grouse Society Ruffed Grouse facts or check out Ruffed Grouse identification tips from the USGS

Ruffed Grouse Size – Adults measure 17 to 20 inches long and weigh 1 to 1 1/2 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females.

Ruffed Grouse Habitat

– Found throughout most of Canada and Alaska through the northern continental United States as far south as Georgia. They are border animals – that is they are mostly found in mixed-age woodlands with a combination of aspen, alder and birch intermixed with evergreens such as hemlock and pine. In the southern part of the range, the birds are found in woodlands with evergreen shrubs, such as holly, mountain laurel and rhododendron. Click on Grouse habitat management to learn how to make your land grouse friendly. Additional habitat information can be found at:

Ruffed Grouse habitat Management at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Ruffed Grouse habitat Management at the Department of Fish and Wildlife publication A Landowner’s Guide to Wildlife Habitat Management for Vermont Woodlands

Ruffed Grouse information and habitat management from Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife

Grouse Movement

– These birds spend their lives in a very small area usually no more than 50 or so acres. In early fall, however, young birds dispersing from their family may move miles away, an activity sometimes called the fall shuffle.

Ruffed Grouse Food

– Ruffed grouse feed on the fruits and buds of a wide variety of trees and shrubs. Populations are highest in areas with plenty of aspens – preferably older male trees, since these offer the most nutritious buds.

Ruffed Grouse Breeding

– Males establish territories in early spring, when the snow begins to melt. To attract a mate, the male finds a perch on logs, rocks, ground humps etc. and drums by making a series of wing beats that begins slowly and gradually accelerates. The sound travels over a distance and sound something like – thump….thump…thump, then the wing beating becomes fast like a lawnmower engine starting.

After breeding, the hen nests in a wooded area where there is a dense canopy to protect against hawks and owls and an open nderstory to let her spot approaching predators. She lays 8 to 14 buff-colored eggs in a shallow depression, usually against the base of a tree or in a clump of brush. The eggs hatch in about 24 days, and the chicks remain with the hen for 3 to 4 months before dispersing m the fall.

Information on the physical characteristics, behavior, habitat, and conservation of ruffed grouse.Ruffed Grouse Social Interaction

– Ruffed grouse do not form coveys like quail. However, small groups may be found around a food source. In the winter, birds often group together to snow roost -diving into fluffy snow to keep warm and evade predators. Ruffed grouse are not particularly vocal, but females may cluck softly and sometimes squeal to warn chicks of danger, and both sexes may hiss to defend their territory.

Ruffed Grouse Population

– Cyclical. In much of their range, ruffed grouse undergo 7 -10 year population cycles. Numbers in good years may be 15 times higher than in poor years.

Ruffed Grouse

Hunting – Grouse hunters often speak of snap-shooting-meaning that a ruffed grouse may flush so fast, so unexpectedly, that there’s no time for the kind of gun-swing that’s effective in most kinds of wingshooting. Instead, you snap the gun up and fire instantly, instinctively, as the muzzle passes the target. For this, you need a light, fast-handling shotgun that fits you well and doesn’t tend to get caught in brush or branches as you bring it up.

When hunting with a dog, particular attention must be paid to pick the right “four-legged” partner. The chief attribute of a good grouse dog is a nose so sharp that the animal freezes into a staunch point at a mere whiff of grouse before getting close enough to flush the bird. The next most important attribute is the habit of working close to the gun, combined with a willingness and learned ability to obey commands. Although some hunters feel that a fast-moving pointer pins birds more effectively than a slow one, you don’t want a wide-ranging quail dog for grouse because that kind of pointer will merely bump birds out of range or beyond screening foliage where you won’t even see them dodge away. The third most important attribute is visible “birdiness.” Some dogs give little or no sign that game is near until almost ready to point. Others become excited enough to alert you in advance, and this is a big help with grouse.

Since a grouse dog must work close to the gun, grouse hunters are inclined to take special care in training their dogs. It isn’t that they use any unique training methods but that they use the conventional ones more thoroughly. Any young dog that works too independently of the gun (or an older one in need of refresher lessons) may be slowed down by attaching a heavy chain or even a sash weight to his collar. This can be an especially needed corrective with a dog to be used for grouse hunting.

In winter, grouse often burrow completely under the snow, or sometimes they burrow partway down in a sheltered spot beneath a low umbrella of vegetation such as rhododendron. The legs of these birds are feathered almost to the toes, and at this time of year, the toes themselves are fringed with rods of cuticle called penctinations, which provide support on snow and are shed in the spring. This enables grouse to walk quite well on snow.

When hunting on a snow, you may occasionally see a little oblong crater where a grouse has landed. From there, try to follow its wide 2 ¼ or 2 ½ inch-long, three-pronged tracks. Each left or right print is placed rather precisely in front of the previous one. The bird may have taken off again, leaving only wing prints in the snow at the trail’s end, or the trail may give out in tangles of brush or clear ground beneath overhangs. But once in a while, you may follow to where a grouse has dug in. If there’s considerable snow on the ground, try to mark down any bird you move as precisely as you can. Working on snow, your dog might otherwise have trouble locating it for a second flush. Or perhaps you’re hunting without a dog. Either way, following the tracks can be worthwhile. For Ruffed grouse seasons and bag limits click to STATE AGENCIES on our site.

Magazine –

Click on South Dakota Division of Wildlife to read about Grouse hunting in South Dakota.

Click on Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to read about Grouse hunting in the TOP grouse hunting state

Click on Maine Hunting Guides to book a hunting trip for Grouse in Maine

Click on Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to read about Sharp-tail Grouse Hunting in Wisconsin – a great state to be in

Click on New York DEC to read about Grouse Hunting in New York