Nature: Friendliness is a good thing, isn’t it?

Female ruffed grouse.

I guess all activities have to be given some thought these days, even in the bird world. A very friendly grouse in Bass Harbor prompted a neighbor of mine to write me a note about it.

We have two native grouse living on this island. They are the ruffed grouse and the spruce grouse.

The ruffed grouse is more commonly seen, living with us all year. It is beautiful in varying shades of brown, gray and black. The ruffed grouse is also called a partridge. It is the one most people know and it is much sought after to eat.

Hikers often meet one on the trail at Ship Harbor or Wonderland. These birds like to sit on the trail or a branch of a tree. It may startle you if it flies up right in front of you on a trail. When it takes off, there is a whirr of feathers that can make you jump.

The ruffed grouse is famous for its drumming, which is either a challenge to another male or an invitation to any receptive females. Hearing one drumming is always fun for they are the ultimate bird percussionists! They may drum at any time of year, but spring is especially a good time for it.

The drumming is done on a well-chosen log averaging about 20 inches wide and usually not less than 10 feet long. While drumming, the bird stands crosswise on the log, braces himself on his tail and brings the wings forward and upwards with quick strokes. He starts slowly and gradually increases his speed until the beats roll on and he finally brings it to a close in an ending whirrr! The sound can be deceiving – he may be closer than you think.

Ruffed grouse spend most of their time on the ground but in the winter I have seen them in small trees bringing to life the Christmas song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

There is a ruffed grouse that often uses my dirt driveway as a dust bath. When eating, grouse may spend a day or two in one tree eating buds.

Spruce grouse also live here on Mount Desert Island, but they are not as commonly seen and their habits are a bit different.

A grouse may be very friendly at times and make you wonder if it might be someone’s pet, but not so. Why they are so friendly may be linked to the time for mating in the spring but it’s not really known for sure. Long distance hikers have told me of actually having to lift the grouse off the trail to get by.

Some carpenters I know on the island made friends with one that joined them every day at a job in Tremont high on a roof. They finally ended up sharing their lunch with the bird. When I went down to the job to see the bird, it greeted me like an old friend! You cannot always find an answer to your wildlife questions. Just enjoy the experience!

The male spruce grouses are very handsome and colorful. I would suggest NOT trying to encourage friendliness with wildlife for it could mean their death when another human is afraid and ends up killing it for becoming too friendly. Enjoy any unexpected moments with wildlife but don’t encourage them.

A ruby-throated hummingbird feeds from a petunia flower.

Hummingbirds are with us once again and we certainly welcome these flying jewels from the tropics. It never ceases to amaze me how they navigate that long journey to Maine to nest here.

The ruby-throated hummingbird is the one we see here in Maine.

Keep your feeders well filled with the proper mixture of food for them. The standard recipe for hummingbird food is one part sugar (NEVER HONEY) and four parts water. Boil one minute. Cool, serve or store in the refrigerator. Change frequently.

Of course, these feathered jewels could not survive on the mixture alone. Their diet also includes flowers, insects and gleanings from twigs and plants. Be sure to keep your feeder clean and fresh. Plant flowers for them. Have hanging baskets they will love. On average, hummingbirds consume half their weight in sugar every day!

As small as they are, hummingbirds are very aggressive birds and will take on hawks and even an eagle. They never hesitate to fight with each other if necessary – usually over food.

Through the long winter months, especially in March and April, islanders are ready for spring and we look forward to the shadbush blooming, which is a sure sign of spring. Usually in mid-May, island roadsides and fields burst into bloom with the drooping clusters of white flowers with narrow petals. They are blown by the wind and fall across woodland trails and roads as if a wedding had just occurred. Each area of the country has a special bloom heralding spring. In Maine, the blooming of the shadbush, or serviceberry, is an event not to be missed.

Tell me what you are seeing when you’re out and about. This is a great time of year.

Please send any questions or observations to [email protected]


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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