Pinned down by Mrs. Partridge

Why was this little bird so annoyed with me?

Steven Hol/PictureDesk/Newscom
Keep Away: A ruffed grouse – also called a partridge – perches on a tree branch in Grand Teton National Park.

At first I thought I must have disturbed her nest, but when I retreated to the other end of the woodpile she followed me. If a partridge (the Maine word for a ruffled grouse) can be said to shove, that is what she did. She strutted back and forth in front of me, toward me, making funny little dips with her head, clucking at me. Definitely, she wanted me out of there. But why? It wasn't even nesting time, I realized. So I sat down on the ground and waited for her to make a more decisive move.

I'd been working on the woodpile and was happy to take a rest. All winter, I'd shared the location with a chipmunk who must have had some sort of nest buried among the logs. But he was at the other end of a stack some 30 feet long, and we had grown used to each other. He had his place and I mine, and although he was very noisy about defending his territory if I came anywhere near it, he made no effort to invade mine.

Not so, Mrs. Partridge. Now she was strutting around in front of me like some little bird general, moving in arcs that came closer and closer. Suddenly, she was on my boot – had hopped down off a log right onto it. And then she proceeded, quite calmly, to take up a position on the other side of my leg – from where she began her circling maneuvers all over again. I lay there, like Gulliver, amused and enthralled. She crossed my leg another time; and then, apparently sensing victory, she flew away.

A few days later, I was back at the woodpile, having forgotten the incident, when the partridge reappeared. She began as before, making it abundantly clear that she regarded my presence as hostile. Could she have something hidden there in the pile of wood? Mr. Partridge, perhaps, or one of the younger Partridges caught beneath a fallen log? I pulled some logs off the pile thinking to help her, but that simply made her more aggressive than before. Was I stupid or what? What was bothering her was me. The chipmunk could share this space. This bird, though, was apparently convinced that she and I could not share the same woodpile, perhaps not even the same woods. She came right at me this time. "All right," she seemed to say, "You want war? Well, war is what you'll get."

I confess I was charmed. Here was this little bird, not much bigger than a dove, charging at me with blood in her eye.

Thinking to disarm her, I lay down, putting myself in her hands. She promptly attacked, jumping onto my leg and running up and across my lower body. I was too stunned to move. Goliath hit by the stone, Gulliver pinned down by the Lilliputians. Neither could have felt any more surprise than I did at this outrageously defiant behavior. I could barely feel her little feet on me as she was so tiny and light, but you would never have known she had the slightest fear or doubt that she would win the day.

She examined me. She walked around me and then over me again. Apparently satisfied that I was no longer a danger to her, she suddenly ran off and began pecking away at the dirt. Had she conferred with Mr. Chipmunk, perhaps, who would have told her that I was an understanding landlord and would honor the terms of the lease? Whatever was in her little mind, it seemed clear she had given up the chase.

What I felt was acute disappointment. A feisty partridge had turned chicken. And what was my role now? Should I get up and start in on the wood? I was lying there, trying to decide, when off she flew.

I came back the next day half expecting (hoping?) she would be there again, reimmersed in her former hostility. But she wasn't. Nor was she there the next day or the day after that. Finally, I stopped expecting her, and gradually I forgot about her. Almost. The trouble is that every time I hear a partridge go thundering off through the woods, my heart gives a little jump.

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