The Sooty Grouse is found mostly in coastal forests and mountains down the west coast of North America from southern Alaska south as far as northern California, and, inland in the high Sierras as far south as southern California. It is very closely related to, and very similar in appearance to the Dusky Grouse (D. obscurus) which is, however, an inland species found through the Rocky Mountains in suitable forest habitat from the Yukon and Northwest Territories south into the southwestern U.S. Together both were once considered to be geographic variations of the same species, called the Blue Grouse, and are often collectively still referred to as that species. Because they show a lot of individual and seasonal variation telling them apart visually is a challenge, however, they do occupy separate ranges, so to know which species you are viewing it is best to know when one occurs where you are!
I wanted to get up close with my painting to a pair strutting about in classical grouse fashion, as opposed to showing, as artists so often do, the adult male in full breeding display which is, indeed, rather spectacular, as is often the case with various species of grouse. The male has yellow air sac on either side of the neck which, when inflated during display pushes up the surrounding feathers to reveal white bases. There are yellow wattles over the eyes that swell prominently during display, while the grey-tipped tail is fanned out at more or less right angles to the ground, revealing, on the underside, boldly white-tipped black undertail coverts. Wings may be dropped and breast plumage puffed out.
These grouse can from lay from about six to a dozen eggs, and only the female incubates, for about 26 days. Chicks are “precocial”, meaning they leave the nest as soon as their down has dried off from the moisture of the egg and they start running around and feeding right away, under the watchful guidance of the mother, unassisted by the male. In about a week the babies can already get airborne and flutter off from danger, but they are also protected by colouring that blends in with the environment, coloured like leaves on the ground. This is a large grouse, weighing from about 750 to 1300 grams.
The painting is 18 by 24 inches in size, the birds approximately life size. It is in oils on acrylic on gesso on a compressed wood (Masonite) acid-free panel.
Barry Kent MacKay
Bird Artist, Illustrator
Studio: (905) 472 9731
31 Colonel Butler Drive
Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada