Grouse are small game birds related to quails, partridges, and chickens. They are deceptively strange animals whose interesting quirks and behaviors are usually concealed by an inconspicuous appearance. For certain species of grouse, though, this drab appearance is cast aside during the mating season to reveal an animal that looks every bit as bizarre as the most exotic bird of paradise. (1)
Widespread across the sagebrush, mountains, and moorlands of the Northern hemisphere, grouses are such popular game animals that some of the earliest hunting regulations were put in place to protect grouse populations. In 1708, the state of New York prohibited hunting Ruffed Grouse for a so-called “closed season.” (2)
Grouse are most well known for their distinctive mating displays and “air drumming” sounds. Male grouse puff out their chests, fan their tails, and perform elaborate dances on flat patches of land called “leks.” (3) Males of certain grouse species also issue a bizarre drumming sound by rapidly beating their wings. This sound is often a familiar part of the landscape for people who live in the regions inhabited by grouse. (4)
Grouse are also surprisingly adaptable. Though they don’t appear to be the most tough or durable of birds, grouse are uniquely equipped to handle some tough situations. For example, grouse can digest and subsist off of plant materials that are toxic to most other birds. (5) In addition, grouse are known to grow projections on their feet during the winter season which distribute their weight and allow their feet to work almost like snowshoes. (6)
Already, the grouse is clearly a bird of hidden meanings. So, what can we learn from the grouse? For people who feel spiritually connected to the grouse, this bird is a source of invaluable wisdom. Read on to discover the symbolism of the grouse and its role in mythology and folklore, as well as its meaning as a spirit, totem, and power animal!
Grouse Symbolism and Meaning
The word, “grouse,” has two meanings. As a verb, to “grouse” means to complain or grumble. (7)
The grouse, however, has many more positive associations. One of the chief meanings of the grouse is family. The elaborate mating rituals of the grouse associates it closely with romance. Additionally, mother grouse are well-known for their diligent parenting. (8)
The grouse can also represent making the best of any situation. The grouse is capable of digesting toxic plants and growing its own snowshoes when the weather becomes rugged. The grouse is an unflappable creature who can endure harsh circumstances and even turn them into strengths.
Grouse Native American Symbolism
In Native American stories, the grouse is often depicted as a righteous warrior. In such stories, the grouse is strongly associated with justice and revenge.
Additionally, grouse are sometimes depicted as parents with a large brood of offspring.
Grouse Nordic Symbolism
In Nordic symbolism, the grouse represents hidden treasures. The grouse often appears as a reminder to respect the creatures of the forest. In these types of stories, slaying the grouse brings misfortune because it may be a forest deity in disguise. Assisting a grouse, however, can bring untold wealth and fortune.
Grouse in Dreams
Dreaming of the grouse can have a number of different meanings, but fortunately this bird generally brings positivity into the life of the dreamer.
Dreaming of a pair of grouse generally signifies progress in a romantic relationship. For single people, this sort of grouse dream may mean that a new love interest will appear in the near future. It can also be an indicator that the time is right to share your honest feelings with a potential partner. For those in committed relationships, this sort of grouse dream can indicate an upcoming relationship milestone or emotional development.
Dreaming of a single grouse can mean that hidden opportunities may present themselves soon. The grouse may appear as a warning not to overlook potential treasures because of their mundane appearance. Keep a watchful eye out and you might sniff out the chance of a lifetime.
Grouse Encounters and Omens
Encountering a grouse can have similar meanings to a grouse dream. In addition, grouse encounters often act as reminders or warnings.
Encountering a drumming grouse can represent an impending deadline. This sort of encounter can be a sign that you have been ignoring a circumstance that will only bring increased anxiety. The grouse is a reminder that the sooner we face our anxieties, the sooner we can overcome them.
Additionally, a grouse encounter can represent the need to look for novel solutions to problems. Like the grouse’s unusual snowshoes, the grouse can tell us that our troubles are not insurmountable. Difficult situations can be bested with a bit of ingenuity and perseverance.
Grouse in Mythology & Folklore
Grouse feature prominently in Native American mythology. They are also present in a number of lesser known European folk tales. In this section, we will summarize the roles of the grouse in several Native American stories, as well as the prominent role of the grouse in a Finnish folk tale.
Native American Mythology:
The grouse is a frequent character in Native American mythology.
The hero of many Micmac stories is an honorable warrior named Pulowech. Pulowech is often translated as “partridge,” a close relative of the grouse, but the actual meaning is thought by some to be “ruffed grouse.” In his stories, Pulowech is often depicted as righteously seeking revenge for his murdered wife. (9)
In a Kalispel myth, two Willow Grouses named “Flying Past Between Legs,” and “Flying Past Head,” leave their children at home to embark on a hunting trip. While they are gone, Fox arrives at their home. He asks their children what their parents’ names are, but does not believe the children’s answers. Inside the home, Fox begins to cook some berries. He tells the grouse children to look into the fire and watch them cook. When they do this, Fox shoves them into the fire and piles hot ash onto them, killing and cooking them. When the grouse parents return they are distraught. Fortunately, Wren is there to greet them. Wren wants to recover some items that Fox stole from him. He tells the parents that if they defeat Fox, he will bring their children back to life. At the edge of a cliff, the grouse parents fly between Fox’s legs and past his head at the same time. Fox falls and the grouse children are returned to their parents. (10)
There is one Finnish folk tale featuring the grouse as a main character. The story of the Enchanted Grouse and the Little Locked Box follows a young man named Helli.
Helli lived with his elderly parents and his wife who had a tendency to nag and complain. One day, Helli went out hunting for a meal for the four of them. Unfortunately, though, all that he could find to hunt was a grouse. When he took aim at the grouse, it cried out to Helli, begging him to spare its life. Three times Helli aimed at the bird, and three times the bird’s cries made him hesitate. When he finally decided to spare the grouse, it asked him to feed and care for it for one year. Although his wife complained that this was wasteful, Helli did so for a year. At the end of the year, the grouse gave Helli a copper feather. Helli’s wife said that this was a pitiful reward, but Helli ignored her. The next year, Helli did the same and the grouse gave him a silver feather. After the third year, Helli was rewarded with a golden feather. Pleased with his reward, Helli climbed upon the grouse’s back. The grouse dropped Helli three times and then caught him before he could fall. He told Helli that this was how he had felt each time that Helli took aim at him. Together, the grouse and Helli flew to the castles of the grouse’s three sisters. The grouse warned Helli to accept no gift from them except for a little locked box. The first and second sister refused to give this to Helli, but the grouse’s third sister agreed. When Helli returned home, he threw the box onto the ground and from it a castle full of riches and servants sprang up. The grouse thanked Helli for his kindness and transformed into a human. Thanks to Helli’s companionship, the grouse’s curse was broken. Helli lived happily with his parents and his wife in their castle forever after. (11)
Grouse Spirit Animal
If the grouse is your spirit animal, then it’s likely that you are an introverted, cautious, and resilient individual.
People with the grouse as their spirit animal are inventive. They often struggle to conform to the expectations of others. When their imaginations are allowed to run free, though, individuals with the grouse spirit animal are creatively gifted and genius problem-solvers.
The grouse spirit animal is often somewhat shy. They are usually uncomfortable in big crowds and prefer the company of small groups of individuals with similar interests. With peers who share their interests, though, people with the grouse spirit animal often become boisterous and outgoing.
People with the grouse as their spirit animal also tend to be drawn towards music. The rhythmic drumming of the grouse gives people with the grouse as their spirit animal a natural appreciation for the rhythms of life.
Grouse Totem Animal
The grouse totem animal is associated with justice, honesty, and vigilance.
The more nervous tendencies of the grouse totem can lead people with this totem to have a watchful nature. This watchfulness can sometimes border upon paranoia and anxiety. Fortunately, though, when it is kept under control, the vigilance of the grouse totem is a great strength.
Because the grouse totem animal is so watchful, people with this totem are often very quick to perceive and recognize injustice and dishonesty. Often, an individual with this totem is the first to notice a person’s bad intentions. Though they are shy, people with the grouse totem gain courage when standing up for others.
Grouse Power Animal
The power of the grouse is perspective. The grouse may appear to be a drab, humble, and generally unimpressive bird, but this impression sells short the grouse’s many virtues.
Grouse are adaptable and resilient. To have the grouse as your power animal means that you are often underestimated. Despite this, however, people who carry the power of the grouse can make the best of any situation.
Because the grouse carries the power to adapt, people with the grouse as their power animal tend to be optimists until the end. This is because they know that no situation is entirely helpless so long as one has an open mind. For this reason, people with the grouse as their totem animal are cool and collected in a crisis.
Grouse Tattoo Meaning
A grouse tattoo can mean any number of things depending upon the meaning of the grouse for the tattoo’s owner.
A tattoo featuring a pair of grouse is a romantic symbol that may represent or commemorate a relationship milestone.
A tattoo of a grouse, especially one with chicks, may also represent family relationships.
Additionally, a grouse tattoo can represent the feeling of being underestimated and the importance of trusting oneself. For a person who values inner strength, a grouse tattoo is a fantastic choice.
Finally, a grouse tattoo can represent music, especially rhythm and percussion.
Whether the stalwart grouse is your spirit animal, you’ve been dreaming of the grouse’s drumming, or you are just interested in these fascinating wild fowl, there is always wisdom to be found in studying the grouse.
The grouse is not an animal that is typically associated with gregariousness or courage, however, upon studying the grouse these are the two traits that stand out most in my mind. Though the grouse may appear much more timid, it takes a certain amount of pluck to grow your own snowshoes to survive winter conditions, to subsist off of toxic plants, and to perform personalized drum solos. Above all else, it seems, the grouse is an animal which truly cannot be judged off of its appearance alone.
4 thoughts on “Grouse Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)”
I’m very happy to have found your writings here, Hailey. Yesterday I had a visit from a spruce grouse, which alighted (because “flew” hardly describes their sort of torpedoing through the air) on my deck railing. I sat (indoors) and watched it, then sat with it first as an object of meditation, then as a companion in stillness. It made a slight movement (it raised its tail and pooped) and I looked at the clock; about 17 minutes had elapsed, without any other apparent movement. I stood and did slow tai chi warmups for another 10 minutes, and it turned its head a few times, and raised its tail again. Finally I got my phone and took many photos.
I was most touched by the story of the locked box, because of the recurrence of the number three so often in the tale. Blessed trinity? Perfect balance on the ground? In another of the above stories, the names of the two birds “Flies Between Legs” and “Flies Past Head” are such an apt description of the low-to-the-ground flight of this bird! “My” bird seemed to appear out of nowhere, and to disappear similarly.
I appreciate coincidence, so will tell you that, while I have lived in Southcentral Alaska for 47 years, I was born and grew up in PA – like the writer of the previous post.
Thank you for putting this great information together!
Thank you so much! I’m really happy that you’ve enjoyed my work. Jealous of your lovely visit with a spruce grouse, would be absolutely delighted to see one in person. Thanks for reading and sharing with us!
— Hailey Brophy
Writer @ WorldBirds
Hello Hailey. I just read your interesting article about the ruffed grouse. We have had one hanging around our house and she seems quite tame. We live in PA in a very rural area with deer, elk, bears, and other animals who come into our yard. This grouse even tried to follow me into the house this evening. Have you heard of other experiences with such social grouse?
Thank you for reading!
Grouse are sometimes kept domestically, however they’re challenging to raise and aren’t as sociable as other poultry. Are you certain it was a ruffed grouse? Certain quail species are much more common domestic animals and may be encountered as feral or escaped pets or livestock. That said, I would expect there to be grouse in your area so it’s not impossible that you just encountered a very bold/friendly one. Currently, avian flu is on the rise so be sure to keep a safe distance and wash your hands if you come in contact with it!
— Hailey Brophy
Writer @ World Birds