What is the State Bird of Pennsylvania? (And Why?)

Pennsylvania is one of the thirteen founding states, officially known as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is only the 33rd largest state by area, but it is still the 5th most populous state in the country. The state animal for Pennysylvania is the White-tailed Deer, but what is the state bird?

The state of Pennsylvania chose the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) as the state bird in 1931. The medium-sized, gray, and brown patterned bird also gets referred to as the partridge, but they aren’t the same bird as the Gray Partridge.

The state bird for Pennsylvania, the Ruffed Grouse.

The state bird for Pennsylvania, the Ruffed Grouse.

Why is the Ruffed Grouse the state bird for Pennsylvania?

According to the E-Reference Desk, to this day, Pennsylvania has not adopted an official state bird. Instead, in 1931, it adopted the ruffed grouse as the state game bird. The bird, which lives in the forests of the state, provided the state’s settlers with an integral part of their food supply. The officers of the State Federation of Women's Clubs and its chairman of birds and flowers, Mrs. Harry J. Shoemaker, championed the bird.

When did the Ruffed Grouse become the state bird for Pennsylvania?

On June 22, 1931, the state of Pennsylvania adopted the ruffed grouse as its state game bird. The state also adopted its state tree on the same day. Pennsylvania names its state game bird in Section § 1005 of the Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes and Consolidated Statutes, Title 71, Part 1 Chapter 6 Provisions Similar or Closely Related to Provisions of the Administrative Code - Secretary and Department of Internal Affairs - State Emblems Section 1005.

Ruffed Grouse with open wings

Ruffed Grouse with open wings

What does the state bird of Pennsylvania look like?

The Ruffed Grouse is approximately 14 inches in length. This medium-sized, chicken-like bird has a stocky build and rounded wings. Both genders of the bird have white breasts with brown and black chevrons and bars and a back, head, and neck of gray or brown. On the sides of their necks grow black ruffs and they feature a crest on the top of the head. These birds have a long, square-shaped tail of gray or brown marked with thin, pale, and black bars as well as a broad black subterminal band.

Ruffed Grouse on the ground

Ruffed Grouse on the ground

How do these birds behave?

This hearty grouse thrives during the severe North American winters when other birds, including pheasants, quail, and turkeys perish. The ruffed grouse ranges in snowy regions that experience ground cover from late November to March.

The male of this species lives an aggressively territorial existence. They mate with one or two hens and spend their adulthood defending their six to 10-acre woodland home.

The male scares off potential threats by standing on a log or large rock and drumming his wings – beating them against the air to create a vacuum. He does this year-round but increases the pace during spring.

As summer begins, during May, the female ruffed grouse chooses a thicket within her mate’s breeding territory, typically in the woods, to build their nest. Favorite locations include by the side of a felled tree or beneath a low bush. The female chooses a spot on the ground where the wind has naturally deposited a pile of dried leaves. With this starter nest, the female ruffed grouse adds herbaceous plants and more dried leaves. When she is happy with the nest, she lays between five and 12 eggs. These little yellow eggs must incubate, but unlike other bird species, the female ruffed grouse does leave the nest while the eggs incubate. This leaves them vulnerable and many predatory birds, including the Crow and the Raven, eat them as a delicacy. The mother bird will attack these birds though if they approach while she is home. She will strike at any intruder with her feet and wings, much as a hen would do.

As soon as the eggs hatch, the young birds can leave the nest with their parents. They follow their mother and begin practicing flying. By the time they reach the age of one week, they can fly a few yards at a time, but not enough for solo flight, so they accompany theirs in search of food. The mother bird covers the babies with her wings when they sleep at night for protection and warmth. If an enemy approaches while they’re out feeding, the mother will feign injury to attract the predator to herself, so the babies survive.

Ruffed Grouse on the snow, during the winter

Ruffed Grouse on the snow, during the winter

Do Ruffed Grouses form communities?

The Ruffed Grouse spends its lifetime on this acreage but will fly outside of these confines in search of food. These forays begin as fall approaches in October, when food supplies start to dwindle. The birds often fly across the Ohio and Susquehanna rivers in mini flocks of eight to 10 birds. Occasionally, larger numbers of birds – up to 15 – fly to the opposite bank of the river, remaining in the nearby woods for one to two weeks. It is typically during these mini-migrations that hunters shoot them. These birds often fly across state borders into Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, or Indiana.

Besides the predatory birds that eat their eggs, the biggest enemy of these birds is man. While hawks, opossums, pole-cats, weasels, foxes, and raccoons all form a natural predator relationship with the birds, humans have hunted these birds since before settlers came to the country.

Ruffed Grouse eating berries from a branch

Ruffed Grouse eating berries from a branch

What do Ruffed Grouses eat?

That flight to the other side of the river provides them with the opportunity to continue their diverse diet. During warm weather, without snow on the ground, the birds dine on fruits, insects, and green leaves of many plants and trees. This grouse does eat meat beyond insects; it also consumes the delicacies of frogs, salamanders, snakes.

Once snowfall occurs, the ruffed grouse transitions to dining as a "flower-eater." That means it lives off of catkins and buds of dormant flowering trees, such as filberts, ironwood, birches, cherries, and aspens.

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