Sharp-tailed Grouse make good eating

In Northern Ontario, we have three grouse–the Ruffed, the Spruce, and the Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus).
It is often, wrongly, called prairie chicken but that is an entirely different bird.
The Sharp-tail is a little bit larger than the common Ruffed Grouse. Its conspicuous marks are a short pointed tail, and, in flight, quite a lot of white on its underparts.
Quite a northern bird, it breeds from the Yukon east to parts of Quebec, and south to the northern states. At times, it has been quite plentiful east of Thunder Bay and south to Manitoulin Island.
They generally breed in the open northern forests, muskegs, and burned areas. They may become quite plentiful in some years in open farmed areas.
Much of western Rainy River District is considered excellent hunting for Sharp-tailed Grouse.
These grouse appear in some areas rather sporadically. Some years almost none, others a great many. These “migrations” occur from north to south.
They probably are the result of overpopulation. When there are too many birds, a lot of them just take off for more southerly climes.
Sharp-tails are birds of the ground. The nest is usually just a hollow made in a clump of tall grass, or maybe under a bush. Usually about a dozen eggs make up the clutch.
The chicks, like those of all grouse, can run as soon as they dry off. Incubation is all done by the hen bird, whose mottled brown feathers blend perfectly with the surroundings.
Courtship in this bird is much different from that of our other grouse. In the spring, a large group gathers on a “dancing ground.” These grounds are used for many years.
The males stamp their feet, spread out all of their feathers, and put their heads down near the ground. They have bare, purplish sacs on the sides of their heads, and these can be pumped full of air.
This air then is forced out of their mouths and makes a low booming sound. Quite a weird performance but the females seem to find it quite attractive.
Hunters tell us that, as the winter season advances, Sharp-tailed Grouse gather in larger and larger flocks, sometimes up to 60 or 70 birds.
They also say hunting these birds can be very exciting but should be done with a good dog for pointing.
Apparently they make good eating, too. The famous Canadian naturalist, Ernest Thompson Seton, said a sharp-tail–split in two, rubbed with bacon grease, and barbecued over an open fire–made the very best wild game eating.
Whether that is true or not, a lot of people go out after these birds here in Northern Ontario.

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