For the Birds Radio Program: Hunting Stories
Just about every hunter sitting up in a deer stand sees a lot more birds than deer. Over the years I’ve heard lots of stories about the birds they see. Once in a while there’s one about a Pileated Woodpecker landing on a branch right next to a sitting hunter, or even flying right through an open deer stand. Stories about smaller woodpeckers crop up occasionally, too. And Gray Jays sometimes come right into a deer stand to share a hunter’s lunch. But the vast majority of deer hunter stories are about chickadees and grouse.
I don’t know how many times hunters have told me about chickadees landing near them and looking into their eyes. And several times I’ve heard about chickadees actually alighting on a hunter and picking at scabs on his face. Chickadees are always endearing-there’s something about their big headed appearance, cheerful-sounding calls, and high activity levels that arouses a kind of protective concern about them-perhaps because these characteristics are also found in human babies and toddlers. Whatever quality it is that elicits descriptions such as happy, cute, sweet, or adorable abounds in chickadees, and just about every human responds to them with a smile.
The other bird deer hunters seem to notice more than most is the Ruffed Grouse. One listener told me about hearing a lot of noise directly below his deer stand. He leaned way over and found a grouse awkwardly perched in a shrub, eating buds, balancing and lurching from branch to branch with loud wingbeats.
Another listener, Pete Petrovic, sent me an e-mail about explaining this bonus hunting. He wrote:
One of the absolute BEST benefits of deer season is sitting nearly motionless and as quiet as possible, and getting the opportunity to see birds (great and small) doing what they do best… being birds! Most grouse hunters only get to see grouse off the end of the shotgun, right after the sound of exploding feathers from the last hiding place. It all happens so fast, rarely do they get to observe them for any length of time. During deer season, with the leaves down, I’ve watched grouse at length, eating, stretching, fluffing their feathers, and yes, the delightful take offs and landings, which sometimes approach the gracefulness of a train wreck. This year, after arriving in the stand before sun up, I sat for a good 45 minutes before the grouse next to me woke up and started to move! It was so close and I never knew it. They never cease to amaze and provide natural entertainment at its best.
That was Pete Petrovic and I’m Laura Erickson, speaking “For the Birds.”