Holly Gray moved to Maine only a couple of months ago, but she has already made friends — including a special one in the animal kingdom.

Gray lives in Etna, in what she describes as the middle of the woods, and loves taking walks to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.

On one stroll in early September, Gray heard a noise coming from the bushes nearby. She approached to see what it was and out popped a ruffed grouse.

“He just started following me around, and I talked to him. He was so friendly,” she said of the bird, which she named “Zeppy.”

It wasn’t long before the grouse appeared to adopt Gray. The bird is now quick to join her if she walks by, but it is even comfortable inviting itself over for visits.

Gray sees Zeppy pretty much every day that she’s out and about.

“I go outside and he’s either waiting for me on the porch or, when I go for a walk, he’ll just fly right over and walk with me,” Gray said. “He sits on my lap and everything.”

Gray said that while living in Massachusetts she enjoyed visiting a local grist mill with a duck pond and always seemed to have a way with the swans and ducks she would see there. She was able to feed them by hand without alarming the birds.

It may be that Gray’s talents as a “Grouse Whisperer” are tied to her soothing voice and low-key personality.

“I’m just a real calm person. I don’t know if that’s what it is,” she said. “I think he likes my voice, like I have a mothering voice.”

Gray’s initial encounter with Zeppy was her first of any kind with a ruffed grouse. She didn’t even know what kind of bird it was when she first saw it.

“He looks like a wild wood chicken to me,” she said.

It didn’t take long for Zeppy to make himself at home. It frequently visits the house Gray shares with her boyfriend, and it’s perfectly content to get up close and personal.

The bird jumps up on the back of the chair she’s sitting in and hops around, but it also is content to sit in her lap.

“I think it’s amazing that they’re so friendly like that,” Gray said.

“He crawls up on my shoulders, and the other day he was on my head and he was trying to play with a pom pom on my hat,” she said.

Gray said she hasn’t taken the interactions any further and hasn’t attempted to pet “Zeppy” or give it any food because she doesn’t want to startle it.

The grouse, which nibbles on clover in their yard, isn’t nearly as fond of the man of the house.

“When my boyfriend’s outside, he [the grouse] does come around him, almost like I think he’s looking for me asking if I’m home,” Gray said. “

Gray feels fortunate to have this kind of opportunity to interact with a ruffed grouse.

“I love animals, so it’s like a miracle to me that he’s even doing this,” she said. “I’m very lucky.”

Zeppy has developed a bit of a fan club on the Maine Wildlife Facebook page, where Gray first shared her videos. Other members also shared stories about friendly grouse that liked to hang around people.

She isn’t sure how long the visits will continue, but Gray looks forward to Zeppy’s further exploits.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...