What I know about nature is far less than what I don’t know. But I keep reading and looking, and some days the words and outdoor experience come together.
As a young man I hunted ruffed grouse with a passion, nearly daily through the month of October. I knew the ways of the fall grouse but knew little of the grouse in winter after the shotgun was put away.
It was quite the revelation to read that grouse in winter prefer to roost in loose snow when available. This was news to me, because while snowshoeing or skiing I often flushed grouse from their roosts in pine trees.
Then, one winter’s day under a blue sky, I was bushwhacking on skis through public forest land. I climbed upward and followed a ridge where the brush gave way to a small clearing. I gazed dreamily at the pretty snow scene stretching into the distance.
But not for long. The stillness was stolen by an eruption only 10 feet from my ski tips. A large bird exploded out of the deep, loose snow. Wings struggling for clearance scattered snow in all directions, as if a shotgun had gone off beneath the snow.
And then the bird was gone, a disappearing blur against the blue. The displaced snow settled down, more than I can say for my heart beat. If I thought the close flush of a ruffed grouse in fall was exhilarating, well, I had just witnessed a flush to top autumn’s rush of wings.
And so I read up, learning that a grouse snow roost can be 30 degrees warmer than the air. And not only is snow an insulation for the bird, it also serves as protection since the bird is hidden from predators more so than in a tree.
I have seen grouse come out of snow twice since that first time. Snow is deep in the woodlands this winter — grouse need 10 inches for roosting — and where there isn’t a crust, I’m sure there are some birds diving in for a cozy night.
Greschner is Rice Lake Chronotype sports editor.