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It was for the birds
Random Thoughts, December 22
Random Thoughts by Wendell Smith

MUSCODA - Jerry Davis, a popular area outdoor columnist, recently wrote a unique piece about a ruffed grouse that adopted an Iowa County deer hunter, including sharing the interior of an enclosed tree blind.

That prompted my brain to partially bring back a long-ago story I wrote about a “tame” ruffed grouse that was enjoyed by a couple who lived in the sand, pine and scrub oak area between Muscoda and Blue river. That bird would “come to call”, hurrying out of the woods and into their house-yard. It would then follow the folks around.

Grouse have a reputation for doing strange things. The late Dean Volenec, a DNR warden who served Richland County and area, wrote a column for “The Progressive” many years ago. He loved to “name” the wild friends he wrote about. He dubbed his favorite grouse “Pat the Partridge”.

Dean theorized that Pat sometimes ate too many late-season partially rotted wild grapes and became intoxicated, explaining the bird’s behavior. Perhaps that also explains another grouse story from the past when a high-flying bird hit and broke an upstairs window in a river-bank house that overlooks the Wisconsin River adjacent to Riverside Park.

This fall a son was on his way to Eagle River to hunt grouse. Along the journey – as he drove north on a major highway, a “clunk” on the side of his pickup turned into a fluff of feathers that had been a ruffed grouse.

There was a time when there were numerous grouse living in the local hills. I no longer hunt, but folks who do tell me they seldom flush a grouse while they look for deer.

During one of our early springs in Wisconsin a DNR “wildlife manager” talked me into helping with a grouse survey. I would go out very early in the morning, before sunrise, and travel a specified route. I stopped at designated places to listen and record the number of grouse drummings heard. I no longer remember the numbers, but it was a beautiful time of the day and drums of mating grouse were always heard. Today, I suspect it would take a lot of driving to record even a small number of drums

Grouse aren’t the only birds known to break windows. My brother and wife had wild turkeys on their Nebraska Sandhills cattle ranch. During tough winters the big birds would come into their farmyard and walk along with my brother as he carried pails of corn to a barn to feed animals. One spring a turkey tom apparently saw its reflection in a house basement window. It would attack the imaginary bird with gusto until the glass finally shattered.

Also, many years ago, I visited a Basswood area farm to take a picture of a strange bird. A ringneck cock pheasant hung around the property. When the lady of the house fired up her rider lawn mower, the pheasant would come out of hiding and follow along behind the machine. I wondered if the bird had learned that bugs were easier to find when the grass was short, or perhaps he just enjoyed a little time with a friendly lady.

All that doesn’t mean much – other than sometimes it’s fun to be with the birds.