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What Is the State Bird of Pennsylvania?

By Rebecca Cartwright
Updated May 17, 2024
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The state bird of Pennsylvania is Bonasa umbellus, the ruffed grouse. A relative of turkeys, quail, and pheasants, the ruffed grouse is found across much of North America, particularly in very cold areas. Most grouse are brown with white, gray, and black markings. The species is best known for the striking courtship displays put on by males during the breeding season. It was named the state bird of Pennsylvania in 1931.

In the early part of the 1900s, the bird was at a peak population in the state. It thrives in brushy areas at the edge of forests, and where new growth is beginning after logging. By the early 1900s, all the old growth timber in Pennsylvania had been cut, so forest areas with small trees and lots of brush were common. At the end of that century, the forests of Pennsylvania were more mature so the ruffed grouse, while still common, was not as dominant among forest birds as it had once been.

Adult grouse usually weigh 17 to 25 ounces (about 470 to 780 grams) and are 15.5 to 19 inches (about 39 to 48 cm) long. They have a wingspan of 22 to 25 inches (about 56 to 63.5 cm.) Adult plumage is brown, with white and black spots on the back, and white with brown bars on the breast. The ruff is a band of long black or chocolate-brown feathers around the neck. In some areas, the ruffed grouse has more gray or reddish coloring.

Frequently hunted, the ruffled grouse is legally the state game bird, rather than simply state bird of Pennsylvania. In addition to being popular for hunting, the grouse draws many bird watchers each year with extensive courtship displays. The males fluff up their ruffs until they stand out around their necks, fan out their tails, and make a hissing noise while dragging their wingtips along the ground. They also make a very loud noise, called drumming, by standing on a rock or fallen tree and repeatedly flapping their wings with a strong downward motion.

Though the ruffed grouse is the state bird of Pennsylvania, it is found in many other parts of North America. Its range includes all of Canada and the U.S. states bordering the Great Lakes. They are typically found at higher altitudes. Isolated populations do exist in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River. The bird is well adapted to winter conditions, and can survive much harsher years than other similar birds.

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Discussion Comments
By manykitties2 — On Dec 23, 2011

My grandmother is from the Pennsylvania and she recently introduced me to the Pennsylvania state bird and flower. I actually thought that the ruffled grouse was quite plain looking, but I suppose the PA state bird is better known for its tasty meat rather than anything else.

As far as the Pennsylvania state bird's name goes I thought it was rather cute. I honestly though the bird would be a lot fluffier than it actually is. I suppose it is just as unique as any other state bird when it comes down to it. At least now I can explain to anyone who asks me about the bird mug my grandmother gave me.

By letshearit — On Dec 22, 2011

@drtroubles - The ruffed grouse is so common you shouldn't have much trouble spotting it at any of the forests, though the northwest and north-central counties are excellent hunting spots, so I imagine you can get some great photos in. Just check hunting schedules to make sure you don't go wandering through the forest at the wrong time of year.

While Pennsylvania's state bird is known for its showy courtship the truth is it lasts just a few moments so you may have trouble catching a pair in the moment. Your best bet maybe to try and find a place with a pair in captivity as it will save you a lot of disappointment if you want great photos.

By drtroubles — On Dec 21, 2011

I'm a bit of a beginner bird watcher and am wondering what is the Pennsylvania state bird's regular nesting ground?

I would like to get a few photos of the Pennsylvania state bird during their courtship and nesting stages but am not sure the best place to spot them. I have family in Pennsylvania so I don't mind making the drive to see the ruffled grouse in its natural habitat.

Of course, I want to make sure to avoid prime hunting spots as I don't want to see the bird meet its maker. I am only into digital shooting and don't really have an urge to hunt.

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