A Ruff Break

If you often take walks through the woods of Vermont, you’ve likely heard the heart-stopping blast-off of a ruffed grouse taking flight from the forest floor. These well-camouflaged birds seem to lie in wait until you are a few feet from them before they suddenly take off, flapping their wings with a thumping ferocity that startles even the most experienced hikers and woodsmen.

On November 24, an adult ruffed grouse made her way into VINS’ Wildlife Services department for care. The bird was found injured on the road, so we suspect she was struck by a car. The grouse came in appearing disoriented, and upon examination we discovered a broken keel. The keel is a large bone that is an extension of the sternum, and is where the bird’s wing muscles attach. Unlike a broken wing or leg, there is no way to wrap or splint the keel bone, so it is simply left unwrapped and alone. Keels can heal on their own, although they won’t necessarily heal back perfectly to their original condition. But birds can often survive with keels that have been broken and have healed imperfectly.

Above, the ruffed grouse is tube-fed.

So for this grouse, we handle the bird very carefully each time we pick her up. While she is eating a small amount on her own, her weight has been dropping so we’ve been tube-feeding her three times a day with a nutritious liquid diet. When she first came in, she was given a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory for several days to help minimize the pain from the break.

We will continue to monitor the progress of the grouse’s keel daily, with hopes it will heal so the bird can be returned to her life in the wild… where she can continue to spook unsuspecting people in the woods.


  1. Anonymous on December 9, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Thanks for taking care of that beautiful bird. We have 4 ruffed grouse neighbors that have been finishing off the crabapples on our trees. They're really cool to watch. We're trying to figure out how best to supplement their natural diet once the crabapples are gone so they keep coming around.

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