Most birds and animals keep their distance from humans, but there is one bird on this island that often is reluctant to even share a trail with you. I have known of times when a hiker has had to lift the bird off the trail to get by. I’m speaking of the spruce grouse. Islanders usually see the more abundant ruffed grouse (partridge). The spruce grouse is often seen sitting in a tree or strutting about in the woods and fields. It resembles a chicken but, to my eyes, it has a little more style.
I received a call one day a few years ago from a friend who asked for my help in how to react to a partridge that insisted on joining the carpenters who were working on the roof of her house in Tremont. The bird would join the men each day on the peak of the roof and seemed to want to be very close to them. The men weren’t sure of the bird’s motives. I don’t know why this particular bird did this, but it seemed to be friendly and eventually the carpenters and bird became good friends. The bird would join the men at lunch break and sit on a knee.
I went over to the site one day at noontime. Sure enough, the bird greeted me like an old friend as I got out of my car. After the greeting, it went over and hopped on a carpenter’s knee. The bird continued its friendly behavior for the summer and everyone enjoyed it.
Partridges usually fly off at a human’s approach and often it is a spruce grouse that is immediately friendly. That bird won’t even move over on a narrow trail. If you talk to long distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia, you often hear about this bird and its friendly behavior.
The male spruce grouse is quite beautiful. You know right away it is a different sort of bird. The male is a slate-colored bird splotched with black and white beneath his body. He has a red comb or bright red bare skin above the eye. On the end of his tail is a chestnut-colored band. His colors are quite noticeable and beautiful. I was driving through Bass Harbor one day a few years ago and a red comb caught my eye. I stopped to see what it was and it turned out to be a male spruce grouse.
The spruce grouse is not as common as the ruffed grouse, but it does live here. If you encounter one on a trail, you may have to move over for it is quite confident as it moves along. You might have to lift it out of your way to pass! I always enjoy the encounter. You’ll have plenty of photo opportunities. I was certainly delighted to see one on my driveway this week. This grouse is quite at home in the spruce forests of Mount Desert Island. It is found from Labrador southward to northern New England and even in northern Minnesota.
When you’re out and about in woods and fields and along the shore, be sure to listen to the sounds of nature around you. I especially like the sound of running water in brooks and tiny waterways, for that sounds disappeared from my life when I first lost some of my hearing. My grateful thanks to the wonderful audiologist that fitted me with a great hearing aid that has enabled me to hear all these sounds again – even peepers and frogs and the song of the hermit thrush at the end of a summer’s day in my woods. As a musician and naturalist, sound is important in my life.
A big, handsome buck lives near me and often struts by my windows. A friend ‘caught’ him with her camera this week and took the photo featured with this week’s column. He has QUITE a harem. Many of the cedar trees near me show signs of his sparring with them with his big antlers. I’d like to see him doing that some day!
There are lots of interesting things happening in the world of nature on this island, no matter the month. Keep your eyes and ears open and alert to it all.
Send any questions or observations to me at [email protected].