Blue grouse on Vancouver Island generally live in coniferous forests on the hilly slopes. In the summer they spend more time in the lower elevations near the edges of treed areas, presumably eating more berries and insects, while in the winter they go higher up the slopes to more dense stand of coniferous trees where they eat buds and shoots of the trees.
We live far from the slopes of the hills, quite close to the water, so I was shocked to see this blue grouse flying up into our fir trees to get away from Emma (our English cocker spaniel) whom I had just put out into the backyard.
I still don’t know how it got here, and what it was doing in our neck of the woods.
The bright yellow skin over the eye is a telltale marking of the male blue grouse. The female has only a pale patch of bare skin over the eye. But even without noticing this slight difference, if you saw a male and female grouse side by side, you’d wonder if they were the same species. The males are shades of black, brown, blue and gray, speckled with white, while the females are smaller and a dark reddish brown.
Keeping their legs warm on those higher elevations are the tiny feathers that go down to their toes.
I raised chickens many years ago and was used to picking them up. So when I saw a blue grouse strutting back and forth along the side of a logging road one spring, I walked over to it. Most likely its mate had a nest nearby. It was quite aggressive and ran at my legs. I crouched down and slowly reached out my left hand. It pecked the skin between my thumb and forefinger. While it held onto my left hand, I scooped it up in my right hand and immediately tucked its head under my arm so it was in the dark. It stayed very still while the Captain and I had a good look at it. We gave it a gentle pat and put it back down on the side of the road.
I don’t go around disturbing nesting birds (and I can only assume its mate had a nest nearby – I never saw it), but this bird was so actively patrolling the area I couldn’t resist getting out and saying hello. It was an amazing feeling to actually hold a wild bird for a few moments.