While it's not considered sporting to go chicken hunting, grouse and quails are game birds who belong to the same order (Galliformes) and family (Phasianidae) as your domesticated fowl. Because the numerous varieties of grouse and quails can share similar coloration, other factors can help you determine the difference.
Ruffed grouse, the most common grouse in North America, are also the smallest, weighing between 1 and 2 pounds at maturity. Slightly larger than pigeons, these brown or gray woodland birds range throughout most of the East Coast and the western mountains of Utah and Wyoming. Males sport dark ruffs when showing off for females or defending territory. Grouses are not generally social, coming together for mating and otherwise somewhat in loose groups with no apparent structure or motives. After breeding, a hen creates a nest and incubates and raises chicks by herself. Few ruffed grouse live more than a year, primarily because of high predation. Depending on location, they might be referred to as partridges.
The bobwhite quail, also known as the northern bobwhite, is the most common of the quails. Even if they're hidden in the brush, you might hear the distinctive, well-enunciated call that gives them their name: "Bob white. Bob white." Like other types of quails, they are ground dwellers who do little flying. Bobwhite are often raised commercially and released in wildlife management areas or private game lands before hunting season.
One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between grouse and quails is by looking for head plumes. With the exception of bobwhite quails, several common quail species sport plumes or crests at the tops of their heads. The blue or scaled quail, a denizen of the South and West, boasts a small white crest on his head. The Gambel's or desert quail, found in the arid areas of the Southwest, has a dark plume. The California or valley quail also has the dark plume, as does the similar-looking but larger mountain quail.
If you're hunting grouse or quails, you'll search for your prey in different habitats. Ruffed grouse are forest dwellers, preferring younger woodlands to old-growth stands. Dusky, sooty and spruce grouse live in coniferous forests. Quails live in brushy areas and agricultural fields. Some species, such as California quails, might be found in rural and suburban backyards. The population of several species of grouse and quails have declined significantly because of habitat changes in the past century.
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