Tale of the snake-eating grouse

Mark Jeronimus of Duluth e-mailed with a very unusual grouse-hunting story today. I’ll let him tell it in these excerpts from his e-mail:

“Last weekend we had our annual fish-fry at our shack…a good group gets together and some music is played, halibut, salmon and walleye hit the grill and stories are told. You know the drill.

“Anyhow, one of my friends from St. Paul told me something I had never heard before. He was walking down a logging road. A grouse got up. He hit it and during inspection found a garter snake around its wing (about 9 inches long). He asked me if I had ever witnessed that. I said in my 50-plus years of aggressive hunting I had  never heard of that.

“When the weather got nice on Monday, my wife Colleen and I returned to the shack for a couple of sunny days that we were pick-pocketing out of October. We took off on foot without our grouse maker Jeep (he had injured a foot),  wondering what our odds would be without the dog.

“We were walking in some balsam. One got up, and I shot at it. It dropped and started running. First time ever my Bennelli jammed. I asked for Col’s gun. The grouse got up again, and I finally dropped it on the second shot. We picked up a couple more and decided to head back to the shack, both commenting on how large one of the males was.
“I unloaded the birds from my vest on the porch and turned to put my gun up, then looked back at the grouse for some reason and there was an 18-inch garter snake hanging out of its beak. The snake is down its throat about 3 inches, dead. Now, how did I not see the snake to begin with?

“I Googled ‘Do ruffed grouse eat snakes?’ and a study by the Main U (University of Minnesota) in 1953 confirmed they do!
“I think the bird was regurgitating that snake in my vest after I shot it. That’s my story and I am sticking to it!”

I found that pretty amazing. Several quick calls to Department of Natural Resources wildlife officials found them away from the office. But I did happen upon this item from the University of Northern Michigan library:

“In the Porcupine Mountains, Ontonagon County, Michigan, on Sept. 16, 1947, I
flushed two Ruffed Grouse from the ground into tall hemlocks. One
shortly fell fluttering to the ground. The second bird then flew down and joined it. On
my closer approach, both birds again flushed. A medium-sized snake, probably 1.5 to 2 feet long, dangled limply from the mouth of one bird. It appeared that the snake had been partly swallowed, but about a foot of its length was left protruding from the bird’s beak. The grouse seemed abnormally weak but its peculiar flight and fall may have been due to awkwardness caused by its unusual prey.”

Here’s another reference about the diets of ruffed grouse from BirdWeb, a website of the Seattle Audubon Society:

“Ruffed Grouse forage on the ground and in shrubs and trees. They are omnivores, although they feed mostly on plant material. In the winter, they eat the buds of deciduous trees, especially in areas where it snows. The large buds of aspen trees are an important winter food source. They also eat fruits, berries, twigs, leaves, catkins, and seeds. In the summer, they eat insects, spiders, snails, small snakes, and frogs. Young Ruffed Grouse eat mostly insects.”

There you have it. Stick to your story, Mark.

2 thoughts on “Tale of the snake-eating grouse

  1. Sam:

    I enjoyed reading the account by Mark Jeronimus of the snake eating grouse, as well the similar story you dug up online. I came across this as a result of a Google News Alert. I am keyed into all sorts of bird hunting phrases and they come pouring in every day, but this one really caught my attention.

    Please pass along to Mark that I completely believe his story. In fact, I once took a grouse in Vermont that had a small grass snake in its crop. Another crop inspection from a grouse taken a few years later revealed several garden slugs…with their shells on. Then came the day that I took a grouse with a crop full of thornapples. This was not unusual except for the fact that there were 27 of them in there!

    I also know of at least one grouse that was photographed along a stream eating a small frog.

    No stories along the lines of odd grouse diets suprise me now!

    Best,

    John C. Gosselin
    Publisher
    The Upland Almanac

  2. I once shot a ruffed grouse in the Moose River area of NW MN that was on the banks of a small ditch channel. When I opened him up back at the cabin he had several slugs in his crop. I have also witnessed sharptails with crickets or hoppers in their crops, lots of them.

    Great story, thanks for sharing it!

    Matthew Breuer
    MN Sharp-Tailed Grouse Society

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