Life with Mildred
A gregarious grouse adopted this farm family as her new flock.
MLIVERMORE, MAINE y husband, Tom, has always been good with animals, but I was still amazed when he befriended a female ruffed grouse. It’s unusual for a grouse—or partridge, as we call them in Maine—to have any contact with people. In fact, they’re hard to spot, because they usually fly off when they hear humans approaching.
This grouse came into our lives in the springtime. Tom was working in the field when he noticed her walking around at the edge of the field. She was surprisingly unafraid and seemed to be curious about what he was doing.
Tom saw the grouse several times, and she got more comfortable around him even when he worked with the tractor or chain saw. She especially liked the sound of the four-wheeler and would come running to see what he was doing. We quickly grew fond of the bird and decided to call her Mildred.
One day, as Tom was working on the side of our driveway, Mildred came within a few feet of him to watch. Tom pretended he didn’t see her and kept working to see what she would do next.
Apparently, she didn’t like to be ignored. She’d run up and peck at Tom’s hands, then back off to see what he would do. This went on for about 20 minutes, until Mildred became tired of the game and went back into the woods.
As spring went and summer came, Mildred started to come out more and more often. We thought she might have seen us feeding the chickens and was looking for a handout, but she had no interest in the grain or corn we offered. One time we gave her a raspberry, however, and discovered she loved them.
Eventually Mildred felt secure enough to jump up on Tom’s leg and stay put long enough for me to get a picture of the two of them together. This friendly grouse soon felt at ease not just with our family, but with anybody who walked or drove by.
When hunting season opened, we put a sign at the end of our driveway asking hunters not to shoot our pet grouse. My father, who lives down the road, also warned people not to shoot her. In fact, hunters would stop and take pictures, because they had never seen anything like her.
Mildred became a celebrity up at our farm. When relatives came to see my parents, Dad would drive them in his Kubota to see her, and she’d never disappoint.
We hope that when the weather warms up, she’ll come back to check on the farmwork again. If not, we’ll always have some fond memories and stories.
Mildred grew comfortable enough with Tom Gould to hop on his knee for a visit.