With its brilliant, bright yellow neck sack and distinguishing brows, the sooty grouse dresses for originality. On the other hand, spotting this bird is not the simplest task. It’s a master of camouflage, blending seamlessly into the forest with its gray-speckled plumage.

If you listen closely during just the right season, you can hear a soft “hoot, hoot, hoot.” You might mistake this for the sound of an owl, or even the croak of a frog. However, if this sound is heard during the day, the odds are in your favor. That murmured call could just be that of the sooty grouse.

Photograph of a Sooty Grouse laying down in a field

This amusing bird finds its home in the deciduous and coniferous forests along the Pacific Coast in North America. Their range spreads from Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, BC, and Alaska. There are 6 different types of grouse in North America, with the sooty being the third largest.

Q: The sooty grouse has a nickname in Southeast Alaska. Can you guess which it is?

A. Hooters
B. Howlers
C. Squawkers
D. Hecklers

Its closest relative is the dusky grouse, which is found in the Rocky Mountains. The two were considered the same species for some time, known as the blue grouse. Recently, they were separated into two species, distinguished by differences in coloration, behaviors, and genetics. However, they’ve been observed hybridizing with one another in a small area of Washington.

Females are sprinkled with hues of brown, beige, and white. Males don feathers of gray — hence the name, sooty. It’s during courtship when males expose their true colors. He’ll suddenly show off a set of vibrantly colored eyebrows with a matching orange neck sack.

The air sac is what he uses to lure the female he fancies. This is how he produces the “hoot” sound to alert every female in proximity. His winning recipe combines the call with an array of feathers in an intricately calculated dance. Usually, he makes his display while perched in a tree to maximize the distance it travels.

The air sac is what he uses to lure the female he fancies. This is how he produces the “hoot” sound to alert every female in proximity.

Fun Fact

The number of tail feathers on most bird species tends to be consistently around 10 — although the sooty grouse has 15-22.

Photograph of a Sooty Grouse standing up in some short grass

Once the female mates with the male, she bids him farewell. A female sooty grouse can lay anywhere from 2-15 eggs at one time. She is the sole incubator. Once a cheeper is born — that’s actually what a baby grouse is called — it stays in the nest for just one day before it begins following momma to forage its own food. By 13 weeks, the young are fully independent and part ways with mother grouse.

It most commonly munches on the needles of trees, leaves, buds, berries, and insects. It forages along forest floors during the summer but hops up into trees to gather food during winter. It’s not uncommon that you’ll see it at the peak of dawn, seeking food along trails or roadsides.

A: Alaskans nicknamed the sooty grouse:

A: Hooters