Where’s the Camera?


We were driving along Falcon Lake’s south shore last year when suddenly Diane spotted a bird standing on the gravel shoulder. It was late summer and grassy vegetation behind the bird had already begun turning to fall colors, so it was difficult to see the brownish looking bird, but there it stood, dead still, even as the car went by.

“What was that?” Diane asked excitedly, sitting up straight and looking back. She always jumps to life, even if dozing, whenever we encounter wildlife on the road.

“A ruffed grouse,” I said.

I had seen grouse flushed from the bush by hunters years ago, but had never encountered one standing still like this as if posing for a photograph. I stopped the car and went scrambling into one of the bags on the back seat, looking for my new digital camera.

The grouse was standing perfectly still about 30 feet behind the car.

People often call the ruffed grouse a “dumb bird” because it does not move. They wonder what is wrong when it stands immobilized even when they go so close they can reach out and almost touch it. It’s an unflattering and unfair name. It is not out of stupidity that grouse freeze, remaining motionless despite the advances of curious onlookers. In reality, this adaptation serves it well because its plumage provides camouflage. Birdwatchers surmise that for every grouse encountered by humans, many more are overlooked, thanks to this defensive behavior.

Bev Brook of Rennie told me once she has a nick on the shin that she got years ago when she was a 17 year-old permit teacher at McCreary. She was walking along a trail when a grouse hen appeared, trying to lure her away from the trail by feigning a broken wing. Bev did not follow the bird, but continued walking along the trail and unknowingly stepped right up to a nest containing the mother’s clutch of small eggs.

Mother Grouse swooped down, and while on the wing, took a bite with her beak out of Bev’s leg.

“Female grouse are very protective of their young,” Bev said philosophically now, years later, but I wonder what she said back then when the grouse bit her!

During winter, the toes of ruffed grouse grow rough bristles along the outer edge. These act as snowshoes as the bird walks through snow to feed. During cold nights the grouse dives into a snowbank for warmth.

In spring, the grouse can be heard “drumming”, a sound mistakenly thought to be wings beating on breast, but in actual fact the wings are beating air.

“Where’s the camera?” I asked Diane, who was already outside the car walking toward the bird. Wouldn’t you know it…I couldn’t find it!

I caught up with Diane and together we walked toward the bird, yet still it did not move. Finally we got near enough to touch it, but when I reached out to feel its feathers, the bird broke loose and scared the living daylights out of us by flying up and away.

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