- Author: Robert J Keiffer
Sooty Grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus) is a chicken-like bird of the Pacific Coast that inhabits coniferous forests. A unique behavior and physical adaptation of several species of grouse is that they can rely totally upon a single plant species for their winter-time diet. In the case of Sooty Grouse, they can thrive solely upon Douglas fir needles throughout the winter.
High intensity timber harvest of Douglas fir trees for timber during the late 1950s and the 1960s, in combination with a population of wild hogs that can destroy grouse nests upon the ground, are the most probable reasons for a Sooty Grouse population crash during this time period. I believe that the Mendocino County population is gradually recovering with the regrowth of the Douglas fir forests.
The species used to be called "Blue Grouse", but that species was split into two species, the Sooty Grouse and the Dusky Grouse, several years ago as the result of DNA work by Dr. George F. Barrowclough and researcher Jim Bland. DNA from birds collected around the western United States, including some collected here in Mendocino County, supported the split in the species status.
Sooty Grouse have been rarely seen on the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center, but observations in the southeast corner of Mendocino County seem to be increasing in recent years. This photo is of a recently observed bird from the Mountain View Road between Boonville and Manchester.