Do you know if there’s a Ripley’s category for "Attack by a Grouse"?
We had assumed that our relationship with Mouse the House Grouse was food-based (though dependent on an absentee-dog factor). Not a problem. He takes the food from our hands and sadly, we don't have a dog at the moment. Naively, we assumed he was like most other wild things.
Not so much. Grouse etiquette is byzantine at best.
Mouse, it turns out, is a boy. And boys, especially grouse boys, are insanely territorial. And I choose that adverb carefully.
At first, we thought he was merely being friendly and hungry because, if we are sitting on the deck, he inevitably shows up for hors d’oeuvres. Muttering his soft burble which sounds like a Selectric in the next room, Mouse scarfs down handful after handful of corn niblets or sunflower seeds. As it happens, I know the approximate volume of a bird’s crop. (Unwittingly I have become the repository of masses of generally useless information. We hand-fed Bijou, our baby macaw for six months and then there was that snowy owl, Honkey, and all those dead chicks - see May 19, 2014.) This esoteric avian knowledge did me no good at all when I could see that his crop was bulging but Mouse, like Oscar, kept going. Sweet reason about the perils of overeating got me nowhere with him. Mouse knows what he wants and what Lola wants, Lola gets.
In fact, when we have remained indoors for too long in one grouse's opinion, he flies at the windows. (Invited in, he didn’t like the kitchen at all.) He greets incoming cars by zooming behind them and chasing them in; exits merit similar attention. I guess that his stalking and stealth heel attacks should have clued us in to the unfortunate truth that we are unwitting interlopers on his lek. Although he has never danced for us, Mouse has both the ruff and the tailfeathers to display his manliness to female grouse (grice?) with low standards.
Unfortunately he was underfoot for too long one day, and the other male on the property picked him up and tucked him under his arm for the next ten minutes. That level of indignity produces one foul fowl.
I wish I had observed that incident when Mouse burbled, whistled and clucked his way towards me, triggering my conditioned response to feed him. He ate. I smiled benignly. He suddenly gave me the stink eye and chomped the back of my hand. Amazing grip for someone who weighs a pound and lacks teeth.
We are still friends but now we know who runs the farm.