American Holly

and Ruffed Grouse

American Holly (Ilex Opaca) is native to Frederick County forests, with festive evergreen prickly leaves and with bright red berries that adorn female trees through the winter. The small, approximately 6 mm to 8mm diameter, berries are an important winter wildlife food, especially for birds. Unlike most tree fruits that are edible when formed to help their seed distribution by animals, holly berries are hard and unpalatable to most animals when they appear in the fall. Over the winter and through many freeze and thaw cycles, holly berries soften and become less bitter, providing an edible fruit in late winter when not much else is available for foraging animals. The dense evergreen, thorny leaves are also good cover for birds, providing shelter and protection from predators. The trees grow well in this area in slightly acidic well drained soils and can add beauty to backyards and gardens.

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

When walking through the woods have you ever been started by a medium sized brown bird that explodes into flight? If so, you might have flushed a Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus). The Ruffed Grouse is the only member of the grouse family found in Maryland. This bird lives in heavily wooded areas in the Appalachian Mountains all the way northward into Canada. Grouse prefer wooded tracts that have a combination of older growth forest along with some patches of dense young vegetation. Ruffed grouse is an omnivorous bird, feeding on a wide variety of insects and plants. Grouse spend most of their time on the ground although they will roost in trees especially during the winter when snow blankets the ground. The ruffed grouse has either a brown or grey phase to its plumage. Male grouse will beat their wings wildly in the spring, making a drumming sound in the hopes of attracting a mate. These birds prefer perching on a large “drumming log” when performing this courtship ritual. Ruffed grouse is a game bird in many areas within its native range.

Ruffed grouse populations have shown a marked decline in recent years due mostly to changes in habitat. In many cases the young brushy areas “coverts” that these birds need for habitat change as the trees and bushes enlarge and the birds loose the cover they need to avoid predators. There are a number of conservation organizations such as the Ruffed Grouse Society that are attempting to revitalize grouse populations by promoting habitat conservation and responsible hunting practices.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 12/20/2009