Archive for the ‘Galliformes’ Category

dusky grouse hen

Dusky grouse hen.

Hybridization between animal species is a topic that has long fascinated me. I’ve been looking at various animal hybrids over the years, and some are really quite shocking. Marine mammals produce all sorts of weird hybrids, as do birds, and in it is in the avian world that I came across the strangest hybrid.

Only a few of these hybrids have ever been reported, but a few hybrids between “blue grouse” and common pheasants have been reported.  I should note that these “blue grouse” and pheasant hybrids have mostly been documented before the molecular revolution in biology and no DNA studies have ever provided proof that these weird birds were indeed hybrids between the two species.

Also, these hybrids were described before the “blue grouse” was split into the dusky and sooty grouse. The dusky and sooty grouse are estimated to have last shared a common ancestor 240,000 years ago and have been given distinct species. The sooty grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus) is found in conifer forests along the Pacific Coast from the Yukon to California, while the dusky grouse  (D. obscurus) is found at similar forests in the interior mountains of the West.

These grouse are highly specialized to life in conifer forests. The breeding behavior of both species of grouse involves the cockbirds hooting from way up at the top of big conifers to draw in hens.

Compare this bird with the common or “ring-necked” pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). This is an introduced gamebird that, although found in Western Europe, is native from the Caucasus into East Asia. This a grassland species that has social and breeding behavior that is quite similar to domestic chicken. Indeed, these birds are quite closely related to the jungle fowl of South Asia, and sterile hybrids between chickens and pheasants are not uncommon.

The common pheasant is a grassland specialist. This bird was heavily introduced to the Midwestern and Eastern US as a gamebird, and now that the forests have largely taken over vast swathes of farmland, the birds are far less common. For example, West Virginia now allows only a single male pheasant to be taken every day during the pheasant season, while Ohio allows only two for the daily bag limit.

So pheasants are a creature of the grassland and dusky and sooty grouse are creatures of the big conifer forest, it is quite surprising that these two birds would ever encounter each other, much less make a hybrid.

One hybrid was described in 1955. It was likely the result of game farm pheasants crossing with a dusky grouse in Eastern Washington State:

hybrid blue grouse and pheasant

So by 1955, four these hybrids have been documented. However, this discovery was documented at roughly the same time Watson and Crick discovered DNA, and no one had any way to confirm this hybrid origin using molecular techniques. I have not heard of any other hybrids between these two species since this one from Spokane County, Washington.

These forest grouse and these grassland pheasants are so distinct from each other. However, I do know from my own observation of gallinaceous birds that the males of these species are pretty amorous. They will try to hump whatever they can, and a female pheasant sort of looks a lot like a dusky grouse hen.

My guess is this specimen described in the 1950s was the result of a male dusky grouse mating with a farmed pheasant. Only one poult managed to hatch out from the mating, but the poult imprinted upon its  pheasant mother. When it went looking for others of its kind, it wandered over to pheasant farm and tried to join what looked and sounded like its mother.

These hybrids are not something that one would expect to see in nature, but because man is constantly breeding and stocking pheasants to fit the needs of hunters, there could always be a chance for some intrusion of the pheasant into what is really much more suitable sooty or dusky grouse habitat.

Grouse and pheasants are not that closely related to each other either, but avian hybrids have been documented between species of quite unrelated lineages on a fairly regular basis.



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Gabe. Source for image is this wonderful post.

Gabe. Source for image is this wonderful post.

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Wild turkey poo

I came across this rather large bit of wild turkey poop.

It was about two inches across at the widest part, and it was curled at the end.

That means that it was left by a rather large tom.

My grandpa always said the reason why the male turkeys always left a little curl at the end of their droppings was because they were artists.

It probably happens for a different reason. Maybe the excrement rubs up against the male turkey’s genitalia on the way out forcing out a curly bit at the end.


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This is a hybrid between a spot-bellied bobwhite (Colinus leucopogon) and a California quail (Callipepla californica).

The spot-bellied bobwhite is a close relative of the northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) that is found in the United States and Canada.  There are actually four species of bobwhite, and this one is endemic to Central America.

New World quail aren’t like the true quail of the Old World. They actually behave and look like partridges.  (The old name for the northern bobwhite was “the Virginia partridge.”)

New World quail are in their own family, the Odontophoridae.  The quail and partridges are Phasianids– an entirely different family.

The various species of New World quail are pretty common captivity, and in captive situations, they become even tamer than domestic fowl.

And in captive situations, these birds hybridize across species– and across genera.




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This bird is a melanistic common or ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). This is a hen pheasant.

She’s much darker brown and has more black on her plumage than a typical hen of this species. She’s not really as black as one might expect a melanistic animal to be.

A typical hen pheasant for comparison.

The cock melanistic pheasants are really black.  Well, they are black in that their whole bodies are the same color as a typical cock pheasant’s head– black with a greenish sheen.

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It’s not often you get to see predation at the zoo, but here it is!


This is an Asiatic black bear, which actually might catch a peacock in the wild.

This was not planned.  I don’t think any zoo wants its visitors see the bird flapping about in its death throes.


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Cesky fousek are also called the Bohemian wire-haired pointing griffon.

Bohemia is one of the traditional lands of the Czechs. It is where Prague is located.  The other two are Moravia and the Czech part of Silesia.

This is the HPR of the Czechs, and it is one of the ancestors of the other gun dog breed from the former Czechoslovakia, the Slovak rough-haired pointer, which is the same color as the Weimaraner.

For some reason, I got these two breeds mixed up in my head, and for years, I thought Cesky fousek were gray. I generally try to avoid mixing up Czech and Slovak things, simply because there is a reason why Czechoslovakia is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I honestly don’t know how I mixed these two breeds up.

So this is a breed that isn’t common that is being used to hunt quarry that isn’t normally cultivated as a game bird.

The only thing that could be more unusual is if they were shooting these peafowl off the back of an elephant.

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It’s from an episode of a show called Bird Dogs Forever.

Pointing golden retrievers aren’t supposed to exist, but there are breeders who produce pointing Labradors. There is a lot of debate about pointing Labradors, which I will not go into here. Let’s just say it’s controversial.

However, pointing can be trained in a wide variety of breeds. Mark Derr writes about how a foxhound can be trained to point in A Dog’s History of America, as well as mentioning a pointing bloodhound that belonged to Montague Stevens, the celebrated grizzly hunter from New Mexico. Then there’s that story about the pointing coyote from Oklahoma.  It’s likely that many breeds have this capacity, and it just takes some training to bring it out and refine it.

What you will see in the clip is very informal gun dog work.  The British call this kind of hunting “rough shooting,” which means the dogs are put after truly wild birds that have never been raised in pens in an environment that is totally natural. They are not driving the pheasants out with spaniels and shooting them. They are using retrievers as spaniels– well, at least the Labrador is being used as a spaniel!

There is not a single trial or test for pointing ability in golden retrievers, and it is not at trait that is normally bred for or typically reinforced through training in this breed, which is almost universally regarded as a flushing dog when used on land-based game birds.

It is somewhat difficult to see this dog point in the video because she is almost exactly the same color as the grass.

But it is still interesting to watch.

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These dogs belonged to a Mr. L. Allen Shuter (no pun intended).  These are some very famous flat-coated retrievers, and they also appear in some of the early golden retriever pedigrees. The flat-coats of this time resembled what I would call working-type golden retrievers. The only obvious difference is that these dogs were black.

These images come from a Country Life Illustrated article that appeared on 10 May 1902:

Ch. Horton Rector

Horton Thyme

Horton Violet. From this photo, one can see she has obviously been nursing puppies. She reminds me of the golden retriever, Ch. Noranby Diana. who lived over a quarter century later.

Horton Violet with her puppies.

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This is how Medieval poachers would hunt game birds.

They would have their spaniels or just good random-bred dogs force the birds to take refuge in the trees.  Then, they’d pick them off with their archery skills.

Because they were hunting in heavy cover, they didn’t attract a lot of attention to what they were doing.

This golden isn’t putting so much pressure on the birds that they take off, but it is putting enough pressure on them that they fly up into trees.

In some parts of the country, this type of hunting isn’t considered “quite cricket,” but it is different.

I particularly liked it when the dog tried to climb the tree to get first bird.


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