Canadian spruce grouse finds new home in Adirondacks
By Chloe Bennett
For the first time since 2019, a team of researchers and scientists has moved dozens of endangered spruce grouse to Adirondack Park in hopes of increasing the bird population. The translocation project, first organized in 2012, involves capturing the birds from the state and driving them to the Adirondacks.
Angelena Ross is a biologist with the State Department of Environmental Conservation who co-led the restoration project with her former SUNY Potsdam biology professor Glenn Johnson. In early July, Ross and Johnson, along with a team of DEC researchers, drove 12 hours between Ontario and the Adirondacks carrying truckloads of spruce grouse packed with snacks such as blueberries, balsam fir and spruce and tamarack needles. Their August 5 release was the last of three tours.
“It’s pretty cool how the project has evolved,” Ross said of the nine-year-old translocation project. “It’s like going on a business trip with my other family.”
Using 10-by-12-foot fencing, the team captured 50 adult spruce fowl with 121 chicks near the town of Cochrane, Ontario. Ross said electric fencing was first installed around the structures to protect the birds from predators. Radio transmitters that can track locations were attached to 29 birds. Researchers plan to check the tags at least once a week, Ross said.
Spruce grouse have been in decline since the 1800s after logging led to loss of wildlife habitat in New York. Now the species is threatened by the absence of their favorite habitats and food in coniferous trees, the DEC says grouse recovery plan. To attract more of the endangered species, Ross said in 2008 the DEC used mechanical thinning, a forest management process that creates more ground space for the birds to forage. By 2016, she said, the number of birds in the area had tripled.
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“The birds started using the sites within a few years,” she said. “They were dust bathing at the edge of these little cuts. They were foraging in these more open spaces.”
Ross began working with spruce grouse in 2004 while in graduate school at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She realized she was intrigued by the bird after seeing it with her classmates. “It’s a very charismatic bird,” she said. “So it was easy to say, ‘oh, I want to work with them.'”
Maintaining forests for spruce grouse can support other species, Ross said, and may mitigate the effects of higher temperatures in the forests.
“In my mind, I feel like we caused this problem, so it’s important that we try to fix it,” she said. “The boreal forests are absolutely threatened by climate change.”
“It’s going to take a while and there’s uncertainty about what exactly is going to happen to these boreal systems, especially at the edges of areas of boreal habitat,” Ross said. “But I think it’s important to try and save them for the time we have left.”
Spruce grouse were nicknamed “silly chicken” because of their indifference to humans, Johnson said. While researchers discourage approaching sites where spruce grouse have been released, the DEC recommends reporting sightings by emailing [email protected]. To distinguish a spruce grouse from the more abundant ruffed grouse, look for darker plumage, a smaller body and a smooth head with no crest.