“And a partridge in a pear tree …” This song has probably been sung many times these last few weeks, but it easily could be true on this island. Whether you have a pear tree or not is unimportant, but partridges do sit in trees, and it is always fun to see these chicken-like birds resting on a branch here on Mount Desert Island. I was walking down Ship Harbor trail one day and saw two in a small tree. It was a nice sight and certainly brought the song to mind. Although we have two partridges living here on MDI, the ruffed grouse and the spruce grouse, they also are called partridges by many people. The most familiar grouse is the ruffed grouse, a hardy woodland bird, pretty to look at, interesting to know and often sought after as a tasty meal by many predators, including humans.
Often, hikers are aware of the bird’s presence when it seems to explode at their feet from behind the nearest tree in a noisy, whirring flight. At other times, it may be seen sitting on a branch of a tree eating the early buds in the first warm days of spring. I always enjoy coming upon them when one is taking a dust bath in my driveway. They do this to rid themselves of feather lice. They go through the motions of a water bath but toss dirt on themselves instead.
Once in awhile, for reasons known only to the bird, an individual bird will become very friendly with humans and act like a favorite pet. Some carpenters working on a house in Tremont told me about one partridge that joined them on the roof each day as they worked and even sat on their knees at lunchtime. I was skeptical about this story until I went there and met the friendly bird. Even as I got out of my car, it came running over to me as the official greeter!
When it first happened to them, they didn’t know the bird’s intentions and wanted to chase it away, but they quickly found out it was friendly and enjoyed the whole encounter for as long as they worked on the house.
The spruce grouse is similar in shape, but the male is a bit more colorful about the head. Both can be seen here on MDI. They’re out and about all winter. Of the two, the spruce grouse is apt to be friendlier right off, but the ruffed grouse is seen more often.
A friendly pheasant, a relative of the grouse, has been interesting to residents in Manset. There is no doubt about recognizing this larger chicken-like bird with its long tail as it moves about. The bird that has been seen in Manset is fun to watch, and with no snow on the ground yet, it is enjoying all sorts of things to eat on fruit trees and the ground. This bird originally came from Eurasia. It is frequently seen on MDI.
A special bird, a Eurasian widgeon, recently was seen on MDI by Michael Good, local ornithologist. On the official ANP list, the Eurasian widgeon is listed as “a rare bird having been seen here less than five times.” For most people, it would probably just pass as anther nice-looking bird, but to any bird enthusiast, it is a rare and exciting sight to see, especially out of its normal range.
The American widgeon is a rare bird to see here and the Eurasian Widgeon even more so. If you are interested in looking at these two birds illustrated and compared, I strongly suggest looking at the “Sibley Guide to Birds” on p. 85. The two ducks are nicely illustrated, and when seen side by side on the page, you get a great comparison. Good’s photographs of the birds are excellent and record the sighting for the books. When you see ducks feeding on any of our waters, take time to check them out. You may see a rare bird and not even know it. Take photos!
If you have a Christmas tree to be taken down and removed, the Kisma Preserve in Trenton would welcome having them. It’s a good place to recycle them and put them to good use. You also can use them in your own yard as shelter for wild animals. It may snow eventually, and hares and other small mammals appreciate a sheltering brush pile.
Several leucistic mallards have been seen on local ponds and along the shore. Leucistic birds have an unusual amount of abnormally white feathers, and sometimes the birds are all white, but they do not have the pink eyes of an albino.
Send any questions or observations to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 244-3742.