By Barbara Mellon
Bob and I were on our way home recently when we spied a magnificent bird standing beside the road. Far too small to be a turkey, it had a beautifully patterned, fanned tail, and a head encircled by a tremendous pouf of black fluff. While we were thrilled at this new addition to our wildlife education, the winged creature looked none too happy to make our acquaintance. Step by step, keeping a cautious eye on us, it crept through dried leaves and twigs, headed for the cover of the stone wall lining the road. Figuring that the fancy tail was on display as a warning, or out of fear, we quietly sat in the car for 15 or 20 minutes, waiting to see what would happen. At last, the tail feathers closed up, as did the ruff, and what became a much more common looking bird wandered off to do whatever these birds do.
Rushing to my computer, it only took me a couple of minutes to find that what we had seen was a Ruffed Grouse, also known as a partridge. “So what,” you may be wondering. “What is the big deal about this?” Well, while perusing the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I came across a link that read “Play sound from this species.” I clicked, listened for a bit, and immediately felt my ears burning with embarrassment. I called Bob to come listen, and he began laughing.
You see, for years we have been wondering about this guy who must live somewhere near us. Morning after morning, we hear him trying to start his tractor, to no avail. The darn thing never quite starts. We’ve developed stories about this mysterious neighbor. He doesn’t really want the tractor to start. He’s got a little shed with a secret room, outfitted with a comfy recliner, a television, and a specially designed remote that will “try” to start that old tractor with the push of a button. Every morning he tells the wife he’s going out to finally get the damned thing working; instead he settles in to relax, periodically pushing the tractor button to make it seem that he’s toiling away.
Well, folks, I am ashamed to say that the sound of the Ruffed Grouse emitting from my computer sounded exactly like that damned tractor. It seems that a mating male Grouse will drum his wings on a log to attract a lady friend. How mortifying to realize that I can’t tell the sound of a bird from that of a piece of farm equipment. Guess I’ll have to try a whole lot harder to belong up here in the county. ~