Dave Pollard's environmental philosophy, creative works, business papers and essays.
In search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



September 10, 2006

Grouse

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 15:28
grouse
A couple of months ago, while I was cutting the grass on the riding mower, I suddenly noticed a grouse running along the side of the fence, back and forth, parallel to me. I assumed he/she was protecting a nest, patrolling his/her territory and putting me on notice not to get any closer. Each time I mowed the lawn the ritual was repeated. Then a couple of times I noticed this same grouse running parallel to me, at the forest’s edge about ten feet away, during my daily backyard 5k run.

And then a month ago, while I was replacing the bulbs in some of our outdoor lights, I heard a rustling noise and a grouse (I did not know if it was the same one) appeared no more than a foot from me. As I worked, he/she got closer and closer, finally pecking at my ankles. I tried to shoo him/her away, but without success, and finally, after deciding I must be very close to (another?) nest, I gave up and went inside.

In August and early September, because it’s so dry here (and the property is too large to water), I don’t usually have to mow much, so I didn’t really miss our feathered visitor until Bob, the mason who has been repairing our chimneys, reported last week that a grouse had sat at his feet for two whole days as he worked, and seemed to take a liking to his scaffolding. Every once in awhile she (Bob is positive the grouse was female) would wander off, checking out his tools and supplies and even pecking at his power saw. She was so tame that Bob was convinced she was a family pet and I was just having him on by disavowing any knowledge of her.

The day Bob finished the job (Thursday) the grouse got bolder still, flying up and sitting on his shoulder and then later on top of his hat. That same day, as I was mowing, she followed me all around the yard, jumping in front of the mower and circling around it, retreating under the trees when I turned the mower around and then pouncing out again when I returned to cut the next swath. She followed me, for the first time, as I mowed the front yard, repeating the same behaviour. And Bob told me that as he was packing up and taking his tools down to his truck she ran alongside him with each trip, as if she knew he was not coming back and was urging him to stay. Bob’s my age and has worked outdoors all his life, and he says he has never seen anything like it — he was moved to tears by what appeared an obvious outpouring of affection from this strange little bird.

Yesterday I did some research to see if such behaviour is common. The ruffed grouse as a breed is supposedly pretty shy, though there have been several reports of astonishingly tame grouse, even some that sat on people’s laps and cooed and purred while they were stroked. This is the species that that piece-of-shit war criminal Cheney gets his jollies shooting full of excruciatingly painful (as the judge he shot will testify) buckshot for ‘sport’. Farmed grouse are raised just for assholes like Cheney to shoot — their one moment of freedom is when they are taken from their cages, sequestered in heavy thickets, and then ‘rousted’, only to be slaughtered at close range in their first seconds of flight.

So I asked myself: What would account for this strange, tame behaviour? I have only one hypothesis. The male ruffed grouse apparently attracts a mate by emitting a low, loud, sustained drumming noise. There is some controversy over how this is done, though one theory is that the male repeatedly beats its wings against its chest. Was our little visitor attracted by the sound of my riding mower, and Bob’s masonry saw, hearing these sounds as mating calls from two apparently single males? Or was she wise enough to know that we weren’t of her species (and hence not suitable mates), but surmised that perhaps males of other species also made low drumming noises to tell the world that they were alone, and searching for company? Was our grouse dancing with us in sympathetic response to what she saw as our species’ terrible loneliness, and gracing us with her company as a way of cheering us up?

When I started writing this article (I’m writing it outdoors at my standing-height desk inside our backyard dining tent), I was going to report sadly that this weekend she had seemingly gone, perhaps because the changing weather had caused her to refocus her attentions on preparations for winter (ruffed grouse don’t migrate). But then something caused me to turn around and there she was, peering at me from under cover of the edge of the forest, perhaps ten feet away. I rushed inside to get my camera and when I returned she was waiting for me. For the next fifteen minutes we danced, circling around each other cooing and clucking softly to each other as I took pictures so close that my camera couldn’t focus. Finally I sat down and gradually she came closer and closer, first jumping on my slipper and then climbing up my arm to my shoulder and jumping onto my head and pecking gently at my hair. When I tried to shake her off she seemed to take it as a game, rebalancing for a couple of minutes before finally jumping back down.

Just when I think I can’t be any more in awe of nature, an experience like this happens. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it all (and I would welcome readers’ advice — I’m inclined not to feed her or allow her to get too trusting of humans), but I suspect there will be further adventures to report (she’s watching me still as I write this, from the cover of the underbrush at the forest’s edge).

Sometimes we just don’t pay attention until it’s too late. And sometimes, we’re graced with another chance. I have stop writing — I can’t see the screen through my tears.

19 Comments

  1. Wow! Dave, what a wonderful gift from nature. Just when you are searching around to find stress-reducers in your life, this little bird comes looking for you. I know, I know…never feed wild animals and all that. But, I say you should feed her. At least just a little bit — by hand, maybe? That’s a relationship to be nurtured. She sought you out. I’m sure she has a message for you. Tread gently, and enjoy the lesson.

    Comment by Carroll — September 10, 2006 @ 16:28

  2. Dave, I love you! And your adorable grouse. I’m sorry but I can’t feel the same tenderness for those no-doubt adorable racoons that last night for the fifth time in as many weeks tried to let themselves in my cat door to help themselves to an abundance of cat food. I’m glad the little devils are so meticulous that they wash their food before eating it but I’m tired of having to duck – tape, board up and barricade my cat door every night. My seven cats just watch from a safe perch high above the nightly show. I’d love a friendly grouse who stayed outside instead.

    Comment by Susan Hales — September 10, 2006 @ 17:20

  3. Dave, that was beautiful and moved me to tears also. Thank you for sharing that story!

    Comment by Tookie — September 10, 2006 @ 18:05

  4. What a wonderful story – thanks thanks for the inspiration that only a grouse and a good writer could possibly bring!

    Comment by Ellen Weber — September 10, 2006 @ 18:25

  5. Dave, I too, was moved to tears. These are precious moments we treasure when bridging the gap between ‘wild beasties’ and our so-called sophisticated society. Consider yourself blessed.

    Comment by diane — September 10, 2006 @ 21:42

  6. This is a lovely story Dave but is no surprise to me. I think life is constantly trying to get our attention, to slow us down and teach us that we are much more than this mortal shell we call a body. As we become more aware of our own Presence, our sense of connection to all of life, these things appear to become more common place ….but no less beautiful or miraculous. It seems as though when we stop looking for answers in the world and turn within to where the answers really lie, then all of life seems to bend in our direction to encourage us, support us and clear a path in front of us. It is only then, it seems, that what is happening in our world takes on a different light, and the purposeful perfection and utter beauty of all that is occuring in and around us becomes clear. Blessings.

    Comment by Nick Smith — September 11, 2006 @ 07:52

  7. Well Dave, lucky human…. it sems to me you´ve been adopted by a grouse! this is a priviledge very few have…. ¿To feed her or not to feed her? As in any good collaborative team, solidarity could be the answer…..Ha ha….my take is that she is taming you… feeling, sensing your behavior, interacting with you, you can choose a non hierarchical attitude, a peer to peer relation between alive beings?!

    Comment by Mariella — September 11, 2006 @ 09:06

  8. Great event and story, what a riot!!! Aren’t animals cool?!

    Comment by Candy Minx — September 11, 2006 @ 11:45

  9. Thank you, Dave, for sharing this gift with us. Especially today.

    Comment by SB — September 11, 2006 @ 16:24

  10. You grow and soften and heal before our very eyes. And it takes guts too!! Thanks.Dave Smith

    Comment by Dave Smith — September 11, 2006 @ 16:33

  11. Hi Dave,Just looked up Grouse medicine for you. Grouse medicine is the sacred spiral of life/death and returning to the centre. The dance of Grouse teaches us how to get back in touch with the earth and with our own flow so that we can achieve balance in mind, body and spirit. Maybe your little friend is also a guardian spirit for you, lending you support in this time of transformation. Your tears are a blessing on us all.

    Comment by Wendy Farmer-O'Neil — September 11, 2006 @ 21:54

  12. Thanks everyone. It was an amazing experience, one that will stay with me for a long time. No sign of her today (but I used no power tools so perhaps I didn’t make the right sounds). I took out and left for her two toys that Bernd Heinrich says ravens like — a rattle (actually a light ball with a rattle inside it) and a shoelace. We’ll see what happens next as she trains, tames and adopts me.

    Comment by Dave Pollard — September 11, 2006 @ 22:18

  13. Hi DaveI am from Clearfield, Pa This afternoon I received a call from a friend that had stopped by our camp just to say hino one was there so his grandson and he was sitting on the porch and sitting on the roof of our camp was this Ruffed Grouse it was just sitting on the roof he called me right away on his cell and told what he was looking at .they both started to walk out into the yard and sure enough it jumped off the roof and ran up by them , I told him I would be right there that I want to get some pictures . I arrived about 20 minutes later and they said that they decided to go for a walk and the bird walked right with them they had walked about 1/2 mile and the little fellow kept right up with them . Sure enough there it was just strutting around like it owned the yard ,we tried to feed it some sliced apples but it was busy catching some type of bugs that were in the grass.We stayed there for over 3 hours and it never left , It would almost let us touch it but then it would get a little spooked and back off but it never did try to fly.anyway I will be going back to camp in a few days will let you know if he or she is still there.How can I tell male or female ???Robert Dotts Clearfield, Pa

    Comment by Robert Dotts — September 17, 2006 @ 21:05

  14. I live is Southeastern Minnesota and have a tame grouse in my woods. She (?) acts a lot like yours. She has lived by our pond and comes running when I drive up with the 4-wheeler I sit on the ground and we talk. She makes the most pleasant sounds and likes to sit on my head, even when I walk around. She never likes to have me go and will fly after the 4-wheeler. I have taken every kind of fruit out to her, the only thing she has ever eaten was wild grapes in the Fall.

    Comment by Sheldon — May 20, 2007 @ 19:40

  15. Long story I’ll try to condense…While cutting grass a grouse flew out from a set of trees…stayed fairly close for a while…showed up next cutting…showed up by the house…coaxed him with seeds…after a couple weeks or so became my “buddy”. He’ll come out of the woods when I “call”, he loves to “play”…will crawl up my arm to my shoulder and at times head….understands a couple commands, for instance NOW will not peck or bite skin but LOVES to peck or “pull” clothing or shoes if he wants to play more…knows the “routine” of hopping up on my arm at first in order to be fed…knows that “tapping” the bench means “come sit by me”….I’m just scratching the surface {so to speak} of this relationship. Being between jobs I’ve had plenty of time to work with this bird. While a Grouse has a “bird brain” I’m beginning to see some intelligence that may not be understood. The last couple days has shown some “different” behavior…I have some ideas on why…..if anyone would care to contact me, my address is cjkjr@merr.com While I see that my experience is not unique, I feel that for anyone who experiences this, it is SPECIAL!!

    Comment by C.J. Krejci — July 3, 2007 @ 00:30

  16. I have a special female ruffed grouse that has a core territory on my land in the mountains of Tennessee about ½ mile from my house. She locates me from the sound of my Honda quad and spends whatever time I can afford with her. She responds to specific vocalizations as well as to general noise. When it is time for me to leave, she gets very active and runs alongside or behind me like a dog. If I go too fast she will fly to keep up

    Comment by Bob McGuire — May 25, 2008 @ 21:50

  17. Your theory on the grouse’s behavior is probably correct. Grouse often appear to be attracted to the put-put of small engines, which they no doubt associate with the male drumming ritual. There are a couple of inaccuracies in your account, though. Mr. Cheney wasn’t hunting grouse when his “accident” occured; he was hunting quail, which, although it is a gallanacious species like the quail, the pheasant and the chicken, lives in vastly different habitat and cultivates an entirely different “life style”. Also, although quail and pheasants can be raised in captivity and adapt to the wild upon release, the ruffed grouse, a native to North America and a hardy species indeed, cannot. It is unable to make the adjustment. For that reason, pen-raising grouse is illegal, not to mention impractical, except under strictly controlled circumstances, usually for conservation research. I commend to your reading “The Ruffed Grouse – Life History, Propagation and Management by Bump, Darrow, Edminster and Crissey (1947) by the State of New York Conservation Department. And a final note: Aldo Leopold, considered by many to be the father of the modern conservation movement, and rightfully so, was a grouse hunter. There’s no creature on earth more wily and resourceful, and none more worthy of our respect, than ‘ol Ruff.

    Comment by Bob McFate — January 5, 2009 @ 18:57

  18. About 7 or more years ago, my husband and I were checking in on a neighbor’s home across the road from us. A grouse suddenly appeared by our side and walked along with us as we inspected the property. It didn’t want us to leave and stood in front of the car, then jumped on the hood. Just a week ago now, a grouse suddenly appeared on our own property, following us as we walked in the yard. We had no engines running or machinery. It has become very vocal, with purring noises, pretty chirping and then a louder call. It has sat on my husband’s lap, but doesn’t want to be patted. It comes out to see us whenever we are outside. When we leave in the car, it runs after the car on foot and sometimes flies for a bit. When we get to the end of the driveway, it stops and heads back to the house. It greets us when we return, scurrying out from behind the house to watch us bring in groceries. So we have had TWO experiences with Ruffed Grouse now! We feel very privileged to have been befriended by two grouse over the years now. I have a short YouTube video of us in the yard…and later I’ll put up some of the grouse on my husband’s lap. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqRihdvNUvk&feature=channel_page

    Comment by DJTSmith — April 23, 2009 @ 22:11

  19. I was just befriended by a grouse. I wondered if I am some sort of Grouse Whisperer, but then I found this thread and other information to demonstrate that my experience is not unique. What I would like to add is that “my” grouse has not approached me because of any machinery or equipment sounds that might resemble drumming. I clear brush with hand tools (bow saw and loppers), and this activity seems irrestible to the grouse. This is the first year I have cleared brush without a dog at my side, so perhaps this is why it is the first time a grouse has shown such interest. It is absolutley enchanting, and helps fill the void left by being dogless. Feel free to email about grouse enchantment. athlynn@aol.com

    Comment by ALynn — July 7, 2009 @ 11:47

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