Grouse of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1803 To 1806


Published: 2003

Pages: 19

Author(s): Fred C Zwickel and Michael A Schroeder


Members of the Lewis and Clark expedition produced written descriptions of many species of wildlife, including 6 species of grouse.We reviewed the accounts of 83 grouse observations, plus summary descriptions and indirect references to grouse by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and 3 of their sergeants.We then assigned them to species based on described characteristics, known distributions, habitat, behavior, and/or other written clues. Fifty-nine (71%) observations were considered relatively unambiguous as to identity because of a bird’s morphology and appearance, a descriptive name, a non-overlapping range, and/or other clues. These included greater prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus cupido), sharp-tailed grouse (T. phasianellus), greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus), spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), and ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus). Other observations were assigned to ‘possible’ species based on available evidence. Our evaluation of Lewis’s and Clark’s written descriptions differed in some cases from earlier reviews. Most notable differences involved blue, spruce, and ruffed grouse and we offer suggestions for changes. We also used journal records to compare pre-settlement (by Euro-Americans) distributions of grouse as indicated by the journal records with those today and to speculate on changes in abundance. Greatest changes have occurred in distributions and abundances of the 3 prairie grouse, species whose habitats have been most impacted by settlement. Other highlights of the expedition include the 1st written descriptions of blue grouse and greater sage-grouse and of undescribed subspecies of sharp-tailed, spruce, and ruffed grouse.

Suggested citation

Zwickel, F. C., and M. A. Schroeder. 2003. Grouse of the Lewis and Clark expedition, 1803-1806. Northwestern Naturalist 84:1-19.