Grousing about stupid chickens

Have you ever wondered why there are so many grouse?

Have you ever wondered why there are so many grouse?

When you consider their behaviour patterns, you’d think there would be fewer, but somehow they seem to thrive.

The mating seasons of the ruffed and blue grouses ended on Vancouver Island the last month or so and calling them out isn’t much of a challenge.

Listen for the ventriloquistic courtship call of the blue, or the throbbing put-put-put-purr of the ruffed, then follow up with your own practised renditions of mating calls to be challenged, honing in on their hooting or drumming log.

With the blue use your throat or, for the ruffed, thump the ground with your fist to stimulate a challenge.

Both blue and ruffed will come out to challenge in full bloom.

They will literally walk up and, somewhere in their decision making process, realize they’re overmatched and wander back to their log.

For young birders they’re reasonably easy calls to learn and the enjoyment on the kids’ faces when the males approach is a thrill.

Female birds with young have a range of behaviour patterns; the ruffed pretends to have a broken wing to draw you away from the chicks. Or the blue, which on occasion will freeze on the spot much like its cousin the spruce grouse, referred to as a “fool hen” or, in Alaska, referred to as “stupid chickens.”

They’ll also fly up into your face to distract you from the chicks.

Coming from Woss the other day we spotted a hen with six chicks frozen alongside  the road.

We were literally on top of the hen when it attacked our grill, it was a virtual atomic explosion of feathers.

Pulling over, knowing there was no chance of survival, it was still shocking to discover no body, just feathers.

We observed, with dread, the chicks scurry away into the underbrush. We knew their fate was sealed, but  part of us wanted to believe the hen had somehow survived and they would live happily ever after. That assisted in soothing the guilt.

Fifty per cent of the world’s blue grouse population resides in B.C. in numbers ranging from 500,000 to 1.5 million, with the greatest abundance found on Vancouver Island.

Blue grouse are vertical migrators like mountain caribou, not as spectacular as the porcupine caribou migration, but if you ever wander upon one, it’s a thrill nonetheless. Surrounded sometimes by hundreds of birds, it’s something you will never forget.

During summer months hens and chicks will forage on berries and plants until late in the season.

Then they’ll begin to migrate towards heavy forested areas, the movement of one group triggers others to follow; it becomes a smorgasbord of grouse. Again interesting behaviour: in winter, when grouse are burrowed in the snow to protect themselves from the elements, they’ll attack snowmobiles — it’s happened twice to this camper.

Stupid chickens.