1902 Encyclopedia > Grouse

Grouse




GROUSE, a word of uncertain origin, now used gene-rally by ornithologists to include all the " rough-footed " Gallinaceous birds, but in common speech applied almost exclusively, when used alone, to the Tetrao scoticus of Linnaeus, the Lagopus scoticus of modern systematists—-more particularly called in English the Red Grouse, but not a century ago almost invariably spoken of as the Moor-fowl or Moor-game. The effect which this species is supposed to have on the British legislature, and therefore on history, is well known, for it is the common belief that parliament in these days always rises when the season for Grouse-shooting begins ; but even of old time it seems to have excited on one occasion a curious kind of influence, for we may read in the Orkneyinga Saga (ed. Jonaeus, p. 356; ed. Anderson, p. 168) that events of some importance in the annals of North Britain followed from its pursuit in Caithness in the year 1157. The Bed Grouse is found on moors from Monmouthshire and Derbyshire northward to the Orkneys, as well as in most of the Hebrides, It likewise inhabits similar situations throughout Wales and Ireland, but it does not naturally occur beyond the limits of the British Islands, and is the only species among birds peculiar to them. The word " species " may in this case be used advisedly (since the Red Grouse invariably " breeds true," it admits of an easy diagnosis, and it has a definite geographical range); but scarcely any zoologist who looks further into the matter can doubt of its common origin





Red Grouse.

with the Willow-Grouse, Lagopus albas (L. subalpinus or L. saliceti of some authors), that inhabits a subarctic zone from Norway across the whole continent of Europe and Asia, as well as North America from the Aleutian Islands to Newfoundland. The Red Grouse indeed is rarely or never found away from the heather on which chiefly it sub-sists, and with which in most men's minds it is associated; while the Willow-Grouse in many parts of the Old World seems to prefer the shrubby growth of berry-bearing plants (Vaccinium and others) that, often thickly interspersed with willows and birches, clothes the higher levels or the lower mountain-slopes, and it contrives to flourish in the New World where heather scarcely exists, and a " heath" in its strict sense is unknown. It is true likewise that the Willow-Grouse always becomes white in winter, which the Red Grouse never does; but then we find that in summer there is a considerable resemblance between the two species, the cock Willow-Grouse having his head, neck, and breast of nearly the same rich chestnut-brown as his British representative, and, though his back be lighter in colour, as is also the whole plumage of his mate, than is found in the Bed Grouse, in other respects than those named above the two species are precisely alike. No distinction can be discovered in their voice, their eggs, their build, nor in their anatomical details, so far as these have been investigated and compared. In connexion too with this matter it should not be overlooked that the Bed Grouse, restricted as is its range, varies in colour not inconsiderably according to locality, so that game-dealers of experience are able to pronounce at sight the native district of almost any bird that comes to their hands.

Other peculiarities of the Red Grouse—the excellence of its flesh, and its economic importance, which is perhaps greater than that of any other wild bird in the world-— hardly need notice here, and there is not space to dwell upon that dire and mysterious malady to which it is from time to time subject, primarily induced, in the opinion of many, by the overstocking of its haunts and the propagation of diseased offspring by depauperized parents

Though the Red Grouse does not, after the manner of other members of the genus Lagopus, become white in winter, Scotland possesses a species of the genus which does, This is the Ptarmigan, L. mutus or L. alpinus, which differs far more in structure, station, and habits from the Red Grouse than that does from the Willow-Grouse, and in Scot-land is far less abundant, haunting only the highest and most barren mountains. It is said to have formerly inhabited both Wales and England, but there is no evidence of its appearance in Ireland. On the continent of Europe it is found most numerously in Norway, but at an elevation far above the growth of trees, and it occurs on the Pyrenees, and on the Alps. It also inhabits northern Russia, but its eastern limit is unknown. In North America, Greenland, and Iceland it is represented by a very nearly allied form-— so much so indeed that it is only at certain seasons that the slight difference between them can be detected. This form is the L. rupestris of authors, and it would appear to be found also in Siberia (Ibis, 1879, p. 148). Spitzbergen is inhabited by a large form which has received recognition as L. hernileucurus, and the northern end of the chain of the Rocky Mountains is tenanted by a very distinct species,

Ptarmigan.

the smallest and perhaps the most beautiful of the genus, L. leucurus, which has all the feathers of the tail white The very curious and still hardly understood question of the moulting of the Ptarmigan could not possibly be dis-cussed within these limits—reference has already been made to it in another article (BIRDS, vol. iii. p. 776).
The bird, however, to which the name of Grouse in all strictness belongs is probably the Tetrao telrix of Linnaeus

Blackcock.

—the Blackcock and Greyhen, as the sexes are with us respectively called. It is distributed over most of the heath-country of England, except in East Anglia, where attempts to introduce it have been only partially successful. It also occurs in North Wales, and very generally throughout Scotland, though not in Orkney, Shetland, or the Outer Hebrides, nor in Ireland. On the continent of Europe it has a very wide range, and it extends into Siberia. In Georgia its place is taken by a distinct species, on which a Polish naturalist (Proc. Zool. Society, 1875, p. 267) has un-happily conferred the name of T. mlohosiewiczi. Both these birds have much in common with their larger congener the Capercally (see vol. v. p. 53) and its eastern representative.





We must then notice the species of the genus Boncua, of which the European B. sylvestris is the type. This does not inhabit the British Islands; unfortunately so, for it is perhaps the most delicate game-bird that comes to table. It is the Gelinotte of the French, the Haselhuhn of Germans, and Hjerpe of Scandinavians. Like its trans-atlantic congener B. umbellus, the Ruffed Grouse or Birch-Partridge (of which there are two other local forms, B. umbelloides and B. sabinii), it is purely a forest-bird. The same may be said of the species of Canace, of which two forms are found in America, G. canadensis, the Spruce-Partridge, and G. franhlini, and also of the Siberian C. falcipennis. Nearly allied to these birds is the group known as Dendragapus, containing three large and fine forms D. obscnrus, D. fuliginosus, and D. richardsoui—all peculiar to North America. Then we have Centrocercus urophasianus, the Sage-cock of the plains of Columbia and California, and Pedicecetes, the Sharp-tailed Grouse, with its two forms P. phasianellus and P. columbianus, while finally Gupidonia, the Prairie-hen, also with two local forms, C. cupido and G. pallidicincta, is a bird that in the United States of America possesses considerable economic value, as witness the enormous numbers that are not only consumed there, but exported to Europe. It will be seen that the great majority of Grouse belong to the northern part of the New World, and it is much to be regretted that space here fails to do justice to these beautiful and important birds, by enlarging on their interesting distinctions. They are nearly all figured in Elliot's Monograph of the Tetraonince, and an excellent account of the American species is given in Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway's North American Birds (iii. pp. 414-465). (A. N.)


Footnotes

It seems first to occur (fide O. Salusbury Brereton, Archœologia, iii. p. 157) as " grows " in an ordinance for the regulation of the royal household dated " apud Eltham, mens. Jan. 22 Hen. VIII.," i.e., 1531, and considering the locality must refer to Black game. It is found in an Act of Parliament 1 Jac. I. cap. 27, § 2, i.e., 1603, and, as re-printed in the Statutes at Large, stands as now commonly spelt, but by many writers or printers the final e is now omitted. In 1611 Cotgrave had " Poule griesche. A Moore-henne ; the henne of the G rice [in ed. 1673 " Griece "] or Mooregame " (Dictionarie of the French and Eng-lish Tongues, sub voce Poule). The most likely derivation seems to be from the old French word Griesche, Greoche, or Griais (meaning speckled, and cognate with griseus, grisly or grey), which was applied to some kind of Partridge, or according to Brunetto Latini ( Très., p 211) to a Quail, "porce que ele fu premiers trovée en Grèce."

It has been successfully, though with much trouble, introduced by Mr Oscar Dickson on a tract of land near Gottenburg in Sweden (Svenska Jagarforbundets Nya Tidskrift, 1868, p. 64 et alibi), and seems likely to maintain itself there, so long at least as the care hitherto bestowed upon it is continued.
A very interesting subject for discussion would be whether Lagopus scoticus or L. albus has varied most from the common stock oi both. We can here but briefly indicate the more salient points that might arise.
: Looking to the fact that the former is the only species of the genus which does not assume white clothing in winter, an evolutionist might at first deem the variation greatest in its case ; but then it must be borne in mind that the species of Lagopus which turn white differ in that respect from all other groups of the family Tetraonida-. Further-more it must be remembered that every species of Lagopus (even L. leacurus, the whitest of all) has its first set of remiges coloured brown. These are dropped when the bird is about half-grown, and in all the species but L. scoticus white remiges are then produced. If therefore, as is generally held, the successive phases assumed by any animal in .1 the course of its progress to maturity indicate the phases through which j the species has passed, there may have been a time when all the species j of Lagopus wore a brown livery even when adult, and the white dress donned in winter- has been imposed upon the wearers by causes that [ can be easily suggested, for it has been freely admitted by naturalists ! of all schools that the white plumage of the birds of this group protects them from danger during the snows of a protracted winter. On the other hand it is not at all inconceivable that the Red Grouse, instead of perpetuating directly the more ancient properties of an original Lagopus that underwent no great seasonal change of plumage, may de-rive its ancestry from the widely-ranging Willow-Grouse, which in an : epoch comparatively recent (in the geological sense) may have stocked Britain, and left descendants that, under conditions in which the assumption of a white garb would be almost fatal to the preservation of the species, have reverted (though doubtless with some modifications) to a comparative immutability essentially the same as that of the primal Lagopus.
On the Grouse-disease the papers of Prof. Young in Proe. Nat. Hist. Soc. Glasgow, i. p. 225, and Dr Farquharson, Edillb. Med. Journal, No. 263, p. 222, may be advantageously consulted.
James I. (as quoted by Mr Gray, B. W. Scotland, p 230) writing ' from Whitehall in 1617 spelt the word " Terniigant," and in this form
it appears in one of the Scots Acts in 1621. Taylor the " water poet," who (in 1630) seems to have been the first Englishman to use the word, has " Termagant." How the unnecessary initial letter has crept into the name is more than the writer knows. The word is admittedly from the Gaelic Tarmachan, meaning, according to some, "a dweller upon heights," but thought by Dr T. M'Lauchlan to refer possibly to the noise made by the bird's wings in taking flight.








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