I didn’t decide on my favorite until late in life. It was seven years ago in Colorado, when a rancher asked me what my favorite bird was. We were about to visit some lesser prairie-chickens on his range, and it would have been impolite not to answer.

“Spruce grouse,” I blurted out uncertainly.

My affection for spruce grouse has deepened ever since. They are denizens of northern forests, and they are doing better in Maine than elsewhere.

They’re almost gone from New York’s Adirondacks. A few years ago, Vermont sent a crew to Maine to transplant them back to that state, trying to re-establish a population. New York and Vermont list them as endangered, and they’re not doing much better in New Hampshire.

However, they are widespread along the Down East coast, in Maine’s North Woods and at higher elevations in western Maine. In short, it’s a bird of which Maine can be proud.

There are 10 species of grouse in North America, and they share a breeding strategy. Males hold a territory in spring, inviting every passing female to make babies. The hens then raise the chicks on their own, while the male keeps up his courtship behavior for two months or more. By the end of the season, both genders are tuckered out.

The reason I love spruce grouse is that each one I’ve met has a distinct personality. No kidding, really. Male spruce grouse typically return to the same breeding spot each spring. If you know where that is, you can often find the same bird on the same territory every year.

You can get to know them as quirky individuals. That is how I came to realize that each grouse is distinctive. I’ve made the acquaintance of dozens. When I get to know a bird, I give it a name.

I suppose it should come as no surprise. Dogs and cats have individual personalities. Any chicken owner can vouch for the personality of individual birds. Presumably, all the chickadees at the feeder and robins on the lawn have personalities. We just don’t notice, because we don’t spend enough time with them, and they all look alike, so who can tell individuals apart?

Birds are basically interested in three things: eat, don’t get eaten and make babies. It’s hard to distinguish individual behaviors over such a limited range of activities, especially when it’s nearly impossible to recognize or spend time with individual birds.

That’s what makes the spruce grouse appealing. Not only can you get to know particular birds, but you can spend time with them. Males on territory don’t flee. In fact, often they will try to make you flee.

Spruce grouse in Maine are more annoyed by people than fearful of them. They are not huntable here, nor in most states. Limited hunting is allowed in five western states and some Canadian provinces, but not in any eastern state.

Our spruce grouse haven’t learned to panic when seeing a two-legged critter in the woods. They don’t typically explode away in flight the way ruffed grouse do. In fact, their customary defense is to freeze in place and watch you pass unaware. I’ve had many of them sit on a branch within my reach, expecting that I won’t see them, and not very worried if I do.

A male on territory will do several things. It may just sit quietly and wait you out. Or he may walk up to you, ruffling his wings and spreading his tail, making a popping sound as he does.

That’s how rival males defend territories, and they hope the tactic will work on you. Most males combine the two, fluttering up to a safe branch and doing the intimidation display, and then dropping to the ground again to strut their stuff.

This dance often gives you enough time to observe a bird’s behavior and compare it to other grouse you’ve met. Some are more timid than others, opting to walk away or fly to a branch. Some are so docile, they’ll ignore you even when you’re right next to them. Some are so aggressive, they’ll chase you around, even when you’re trying to leave.

Don’t get too close or overstay your welcome. Spruce grouse act tame, but they’d really prefer that you be somewhere else. Meanwhile, this holiday season, think of spruce grouse as a very different partridge in a pear tree.

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Bob Duchesne, Good Birding

Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at duchesne@midmaine.com.