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Birding Focus: Interesting stories of our feathered friends.

Ruffed Grouse
© George H. Harrison

The Seductive Grouse

Members of the grouse family are notorious for their tameness, boldness, or stupidity, when it comes to being in the presence of people. In North America, there are 10 species of these chickenlike game birds, three are called grouse, three are ptarmigans and two are prairie chickens.

Both the spruce grouse of the North and the blue grouse of the Rockies and Northwest, are often called "fool hen," because of their strange tameness in the presence of people. But for outright boldness, the ruffed grouse of the Midwest, Northwest, and Northeast (Pennsylvania's State Bird), wins the prize.

There are stories about how ruffed grouse have become attached to people, like the hen that followed a farmer around for two years. Other grouse may be belligerent, attacking people and vehicles.

My own experience occurred just last fall, while sitting in a northern Wisconsin woodland, dressed in a blaze orange suit. A whole family of ruffed grouse—a hen and her nearly full grown brood of five—walked all around me, apparently out of curiosity. One, whom I named Gracy, actually took a liking to this man in a blaze orange suit, and she spent several hours only a few feet away from me. One evening, she decided to sleep (roost) with me. When I left my stand, she was still there, and probably spent the night. Over a period of five days, it was a wonderful experience to be that close to, and share time with, this creature of the wilderness, Gracy the grouse.

-- George H. Harrison