Here in Montana there are folks who take the “private” in private property pretty seriously. “No Trespassing” signs surround their domain, dire warnings to any who venture beyond. Deer skulls and antlers adorn the gables of garages and outbuildings – grisly reminders that trespassers will not be treated kindly. Truth be told, though, these folks are more the exception than the rule. Most people aren’t too neurotic about protecting their property, and the discreet wanderer doesn’t generally ruffle any feathers. But today I ended up in a scuffle over property rights.
After a long day working on my car, I stepped out to take a walk. Ten minutes later, I heard rustling in the bushes beside the road. I continued walking, as did my pursuer. A few paces later, I had a pretty good idea who was stalking me. Don.
Don Quixote suffers from delusions of grandeur and bravery. A highly territorial ruffed grouse, Don believes himself the fearless and valiant defender of his plot of woods. Unfortunately, a residential road runs through the middle of his land, and Don has taken it upon himself to rid the road of “trespassers.”
As I strolled down the road, his rotund figure could be seen dashing through the brush as fast as his stubby legs would carry him. When I stopped, he ran over to a large lodgepole and stood at its base. I strode up and looked him in the eye. A stare-down ensued. When I tired of this and retreated to the road, Don leaped to the offensive and dashed after me. Soon we were scuffling about on the gravel road. Not wanting to harm Don, I carefully put on a show of aggression – just enough to keep from being completely overrun by the fiercely territorial individual. We danced round and round, each wary of the other, much like boxers in a ring, constantly advancing and evading. We each bluffed bravery, but both shunned physical contact.
Last winter my family met Don Quixote, thereby discovering that grouse could be quite territorial. When cars drive past, this intrepid little bird rushes out of the woods and flies after them, chasing them away. On several occasions he has landed on the trunk or rear wiper of our car as we drive past. Foot traffic is also seen as a threat, and if one lingers in Don’s territory, the feisty grouse will rush out onto the road to scare away the intruder. A defensive spirit has completely overruled any fear which grouse normally have, and Don has no qualms about approaching humans. Merely chasing pedestrians is not enough, and attacks include a mixture of hissing, clucking, pecking at the road, flapping and spreading of tail feathers, and skidding on loose gravel. Though he avoids physical contact, Mr. Quixote is not afraid to come quite close. I had trouble getting far enough from him to take a picture. Last week Don even went so far as to attack my brother’s boot.
The little bird’s territory has definite bounds, though; you will only find Don on a 150-yard stretch of road near the crest of a hill. Once invaders have been chased to the edge of his territory, the little fellow leaves off and vanishes into the woods – presumably waiting to vanquish the next foe.
The most recent development is an attempt to attack cars head on. Rather appearing in shocked drivers’ rear view mirrors, Don has begun to rush out in front of traffic. Once out in the road, Don stubbornly holds his ground, refusing to back down even as automobiles charge him. Even the horn is of no avail. Such behavior is decidedly suicidal, even if unintentionally so. Consequently, we fear for Don’s life.