Saturday, August 13, 2011

Grouse and Agates

This morning I joined my son and daughter-in-law at the local breakfast, sponsored by the Spanish and Drama clubs. It is a fund raiser to take advantage of the Grand Marais Music and Arts Festival attendees.

When I was driving back home to do this blog update, as I pulled in my driveway I had to stop so I wouldn't hit the grouse sitting in the middle of the driveway.  I was able to get several photos before it moved.

Grouse are a group of birds from the order Galliformes. They are sometimes considered a family Tetraonidae, though the American Ornithologists' Union and many others include grouse as a subfamily Tetraoninae in the family Phasianidae. Grouse inhabit temperate and subarctic regions of the northern hemisphere, from northern Canada to Texas. 

Grouse are heavily built like other Galliformes such as chickens  They range in length from 12 inches (31 cm)  to 37 inches (95 cm), in weight from 0.3 kg (11 oz) to 6.5 kg (14 lb). Males are bigger than females. Grouse have feathered nostrils. Their legs are feathered to the toes, and in winter the toes too have feathers or small scales on the sides, an adaptation for walking on snow and burrowing into it for shelter.

These birds feed mainly on vegetation—buds, catkins, leaves, and twigs—which typically accounts for over 95 percent of adults' food by weight. Thus their diet varies greatly with the seasons. Hatchlings eat mostly insects and other invertebrates, gradually reducing their proportion of animal food to adult levels. Several of the forest-living species are notable for eating large quantities of conifer needles, which most other vertebrates refuse. To digest vegetable food, grouse have big crops and gizzards, eat grit to break up food, and have long intestines with well-developed caeca in which symbiotic bacteria digest cellulose.

Forest species flock only in autumn and winter, though individuals tolerate each other when they meet. Prairie species are more social, and tundra species are the most social, forming flocks of up to 100 in winter. All grouse spend most of their time on the ground, though when alarmed, they may take off in a flurry and go into a long glide.

Most species stay within their breeding range all year.  In all but one species (the Willow Ptarmigan), males are polygamous. Many species have elaborate courtship displays on the ground at dawn and dusk. The displays feature males' bright-colored combs and in some species, bright-colored inflatable sacs on the sides of their necks. The males display their plumage, give vocalizations that vary widely between species, and may engage in other activities such as drumming or fluttering their wings, rattling their tails, and making display flights. Occasionally males fight.

The nest is a shallow depressions on the ground, often in cover, with a scanty lining of plant material. The female lays one clutch, but may replace it if the eggs are lost. She begins to lay about a week after mating and lays one egg every day or two; the clutch comprises 5 to 12 eggs. The eggs have the shape of hen's eggs and are pale yellow, sparsely spotted with brown. On laying the second-last or last egg, the female starts 21 to 28 days of incubation. Chicks hatch in dense yellow-brown down and leave the nest immediately. They soon develop feathers and can fly a little before they are two weeks old. The female (and the male in the Willow Grouse) stays with them and protects them till their first autumn, by which time they reach their mature weight . They are sexually mature the following spring but often do not mate until later years.

Here is a close up of the colorful feathers.

This week I polished a couple of agates for Claudia Whrick from Rochester Hills.  I'll feature the sagenite agate on the webpage update, which I'm doing next week.  In the mean time, here is a close up of her moss agate.

Here is an agate I polished for John Bauknrcht.  He purchased it from Ron, who sells agates in our greenspace Farmer's Market on Thursday evenings.  I polished two faces on the agate.

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