Call it close encounters of the ruffed grouse kind.
For more than a week, a rural Manitoba family has had a ruffed grouse pursue them about their yard. Biologists Jim and Patsy Duncan admit they are perplexed by the odd behaviour of the curious feathered creature, which they've nicknamed George, that lives on their farm, 30 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg in Manitoba's Interlake region.
The small-chicken-sized, mottled grey-brown bird lives in the woodlot adjacent to their large lawn.
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"It's like a visitor from another planet," said Mr. Duncan, who happens to work for the wildlife branch of Manitoba Conservation. "In all the years Patsy and I have been studying wild birds, we've never experienced anything like this. It's almost as if he's obsessed with studying us."
Renowned Winnipeg-based ornithologist Robert Nero, noted for his work on great grey owls and other bird species, said he's also at a loss to explain why George chases after the Duncan family.
"It's individual behaviour," he said. "Somehow, it became attached to people. I've heard of similar things with other kinds of wildlife. It's unusual and interesting."
The ruffed grouse has been around the farm since early spring, said Ms. Duncan, who has been working with her husband on an owl banding project in southeastern Manitoba for many years.
"We've noticed it and so have my parents [who live on the same property]" Ms. Duncan said, pointing out that the bird also tags along behind the couple's two teenaged children, Connor and Brooke.
"We have also heard him drumming all spring. But it was on May 13, when I was cutting the grass in the orchard, that I noticed the grouse coming very close to me. I was quite surprised as I was using a gas-powered mower that was very loud. But this did not seem to bother the grouse in the least. I finished the lawn and didn't think any more of it."
A couple of days after that, Ms. Duncan was gardening in one of her flower beds when she noticed the grouse very close to her.
"He was making little noises, and one call even sounded like a little puppy whimpering," she said during an interview at her home on May 17, when the grouse was clearly visible, but wouldn't emerge from his forested hideaway.
"I had never heard that before. But I also had never been that close to a grouse before. He stayed near me for about 40 minutes or so, following me as I moved around my flower beds. Then, at one point, he came right at me when I wasn't expecting it, and pecked at my hand."
The bold bird even walked right onto the deck while Ms. Duncan was sitting there.
"This has been very strange, exciting and funny for us all to observe," she said. "We are always on the lookout for him when we are in the yard, especially after we've been away and come back."
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