Signs of a Black Grouse
This beautiful grouse snow angel was made by a black grouse (Tetrao tetrix). It’s a snow hole with wing marks where the grouse has left its shelter. Black grouse dig snow burrows (also called igloos) in the snow pack to protect themselves from wintry conditions. Even during periods of mild temperatures, they like spending time snoozing in their self-dug holes underneath the snow. This photo of an exit hole clearly shows where the bird has flapped its wings to take off into the sky. The picture was taken at an altitude of about 1800 meters in the valley of Chamonix.
Black grouse, easiest described as “big mountain chickens”, have a plant-based diet and live mainly on the ground. They have a plump body with powerful flying muscles that allow a quick escape, but they are too heavy to fly far. On the other hand, their big, strong feet allow them to dig well. This enables black grouse to dig into the snow layer to construct a snow burrow. Snow burrowing isn’t only an important strategy to safe energy (the temperature in a snow hole is considerably more stable and higher in comparison to outside), it also is a wonderful spot to hide from predators. After all, black grouse are pretty easy to spot in a white environment. All and all, snow borrowing is an incredible adaptation to life in our mountains. And besides, it leaves wonder marks behind for us to find.
Any bird that has landed in the snow can leave wing marks behind. Owls for example can also make similar marks, when hunting for small mammals like voles that live in tunnels underneath the snow. However, although owls leave wing marks, they don’t leave a snow hole behind like the grouse snow angel in this picture. It’s an incredible find. Probably one of the most exciting traces in the snow you can discover in the Alps!
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