Mating to the Beat of a Different Drum

Male ruffed grouse

Each spring during mating season, male grouse claim their territory by “drumming” to attract females and fend off other males.

Males will frequent the same “drumming” logs year after year, claiming 6 to 10 acres and one or two hens. The distinctive low-pitched “drumming” resembles the distant sound of someone trying to start a lawn mower.

How does a male grouse make the drumming sound?

A) stomping his feet against a log

B) beating his wings quickly

C) low-pitched calling

D) beating his wings against his chest

B is the correct answer!

Male grouse are “drumming” the air. Rapid wing movements (5 wing flaps per second) produces a vacuum as the wing is drawn back. Air rushing back into the vacuum creates the “thump” sound.

If you guessed D, you were close.  Early researchers believed that grouse wings were beating against the bird’s chest because they assumed some physical contact was necessary to make sound.