Sydney the grouse
The memories of ruffed grouse are usually of one or two birds at a time flushing suddenly from their hide and disappearing rapidly between the trees of the forest in a flourish of noisy wing beats. Hunters and other people who frequent the ruffed grouse’s habitat will say that the grouse is one of the most secretive birds in the woods. They are usually hidden until flushed. You also may hear the rising cadence of the male’s courtship “drumming” in the spring. The drumming noise is actually produced by the male flapping its wings and creating a small vacuum during each flap.
However, in nature, there are sometimes deviations from what would be considered normal traits for a particular species. With grouse, it seems that sometimes they become “tame.” No, they won’t sit on your shoulder or fly into your house and perch on top of your refrigerator. A grouse following this behavior pattern will be in plain view of people, within a few feet. It may even follow people around as they walk. I once saw one that a property owner had been seeing frequently on and off for a month; unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera with me at the time.
As luck would have it, I would soon hear of another “tame” ruffed grouse.” Jane Bollinger, formerly managing editor of The River Reporter, contacted me recently stating that she had a ruffed grouse in her yard and that she was concerned about its welfare. It had already been around for about three weeks when Jane contacted me. The grouse was reported to be making the rounds in Jane’s neighborhood, visiting the neighbor and then coming back to the Bollinger residence. Jane reported that the grouse would follow them on walks and come pretty close. When the car went down the driveway, the grouse would fly along beside, keeping pace alongside the car for 20 yards or so before giving up.
The primary reason for Jane’s initial contact was concern about the health and welfare of the grouse (it now goes by the name of Sydney). Is Sydney in mortal danger? One of the first things noted is that the grouse was flighted about a month ago, and still is. A bird that is sick or emaciated frequently loses the ability to fly as symptoms get worse. Until recently Sydney had been ignoring offerings of wild bird seed, but that changed last week, and Sydney now seems to like it. In any case, Jane’s photo shows what appears to be a healthy adult grouse.
In researching the incidents of “tame” ruffed grouse, several similar instances can be found. However, do not confuse the ruffed grouse with its northern relative—not found in this area—the spruce grouse. Spruce grouse are extraordinarily tolerant toward humans and bear the nickname “fool hen.”
The reasons that a small number of ruffed grouse display this behavior is unclear, but some theorize that it is a regressive trait, dating back to the time when no humans were around for the grouse to fear. To hear a Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist’s take on the tame grouse phenomenon, visit https://tinyurl.com/y77pv5k8.