When Bill Hartline purchased 50 acres of forested land exterior Muncy, Pa., he was on the lookout for a little bit of solitude and a spot to finally construct a brand new residence in retirement. But throughout a tenting journey there in early 2020, he found the wooded plot wasn’t as lonely as he thought. That night, a ruffed grouse — a crow-size fowl with a tiny mohawk and mottled feathers — appeared at his ft.
“I crouched down and said, ‘Hello.’ He cooed back and started following me around,” Mr. Hartline, 66, stated. “Three years later, he’s still following me around.”
That’s placing it mildly. Mister Grouse, as he has named the fowl, appears to ingratiate himself into the whole lot Mr. Hartline does. Mister Grouse rides the tractor, hops up on ladders and enjoys the campfire from atop Mr. Hartline’s shoulders.
It’s a far cry from the habits of most ruffed grouse, whose stealth and elusiveness are why hunters name them the “king of game birds.”
“He is extremely friendly, but in all honesty, he can be a pain, too,” Mr. Hartline stated.
When Mr. Hartline or his friends attempt to drive away, the fowl throws himself beneath the automobile. “He never wants you to leave, and he’s learned that if he’s under the car, you won’t leave,” Mr. Hartline stated.
He can even get “too friendly,” as Mr. Hartline places it, untying shoelaces or pulling hair.
Still, Mr. Hartline says that he considers Mister Grouse a buddy, though he’s curious as to why the fowl has chosen him. Researchers might quickly have the reply.
During a current research to establish the genetic well being of Pennsylvania’s dwindling grouse inhabitants, a workforce of scientists turned up a shock: A genetic anomaly referred to as a chromosomal inversion was current in a big variety of samples. Such inversions occur when a section of DNA breaks off and reattaches in reverse order.
Chromosomal inversions in birds can manifest in an apparent trait, resembling a distinction in look or demeanor, in keeping with Julian Avery, an ecologist at Pennsylvania State University and a member of the analysis workforce.
“They might be less migratory or interact with other genetic populations differently,” he stated. “They’ll have these weird behaviors.”
For ruffed grouse, being uncommon is extra of the norm.
“Grouse are crazy bizarre,” Dr. Avery stated. The birds, who’re carefully associated to turkeys and quail, are awful fliers and spend most of their time on the bottom, the place they thrive consuming bitter, typically poisonous vegetation. In the winter, they develop comb-like extensions from their toes that act like snowshoes, and spend chilly nights burrowed in snowbanks.
And then there’s the drumming, a mating show throughout which the male beats his wings so rapidly that the entire forest appears to vibrate. “Imagine a car with bass in the trunk — you feel it,” Dr. Avery stated. “It’s an amazing sensation.”
But the newly found inversion didn’t correlate to any apparent behaviors, or traits like intercourse or shade sample.
“So we just started wracking our brains about grouse,” stated Reina Tyl, a wildlife biologist on the Pennsylvania Game Commission who was additionally on the analysis workforce. “Is there anything weird about just some grouse? The first thing that came to mind was the existence of tame grouse.”
Every 12 months, reviews of so-called tame grouse emerge from the woods of Pennsylvania and different Northeastern states. Videos on-line present docile birds standing close to a snowblower in a stranger’s storage, enjoyable on the lap of a bemused bowhunter and perching on the steering wheel of heavy equipment, cameras inches from their beaks.
They’ve been given names like Gracie, Grousey and Bob.
There have been quite a lot of explanations for the phenomenon — that the birds are drunk on fermented berries or are trying to defend mating territory from would-be opponents. Another speculation posits that the birds are a “genetic throwback” from colonial days, once they had been so fearless that individuals referred to as grouse “fool hens” and hunted them with sticks and stones.
Could the chromosomal inversion clarify the existence of the uninhibited birds?
“It seemed like an obvious behavioral difference we could easily look into,” Ms. Tyl stated.
In March, greater than 100 individuals responded after the sport fee put out a name for tame grouse sightings. Ms. Tyl then spent months assembly essentially the most extroverted ruffed grouse in Pennsylvania.
Drawing them out of the woods usually required an audible stimulus corresponding to the males’ drumming — the puttering of an all-terrain automobile engine, for instance.
“I brought a chain saw to a couple sites,” Ms. Tyl stated. Once she had the grouse in hand, she decided the age and intercourse of the birds — all seven that she captured had been males — swabbed their mouths for DNA and took photographs of their tail followers. The birds had been sometimes launched in 5 minutes or much less.
“For the most part, they’d be like, OK, enough. I’m a tame grouse but that was a little too much, even for me,” Ms. Tyl stated.
But not Mister Grouse.
While the opposite birds fled upon launch, Mister Grouse “U-turned,” she stated, anticipating extra human firm.
While Mr. Hartline awaits outcomes from the Penn State workforce that would decide, as quickly as subsequent 12 months, if Mister Grouse’s friendliness is written in his DNA, he has been researching his personal strategies for coexisting with a fowl that doesn’t all the time respect his boundaries.
“When I go camping, if I open my tent door, he zips right into it,” Mr. Hartline stated. So he purchased Mister Grouse his personal small screened-in tent. “Now, I’ll sit outside of his tent, and he sits inside,” he added.
So far, the compromise appears to be amenable to each events. “He’s happy just hanging out,” Mr. Hartline stated.