Pet ruffed grouse frequents area farm

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Wauzeka farmer Mike Mullikin talks to his pet ruffed grouse, who he’s named Henry, in the field recently. The grouse naturally feeds and shelters on the Mullikin property and comes and goes for weeks at a time, but he always returns. For a video of the two friends interacting, visit the Courier Press’ Facebook page. (Photos by Correne Martin)

The detail and depth of color in this ruffed grouse’s feathers make him quite the sight to admire in nature.

Mike Mullikin reaches out for his pet, Henry the grouse.

By Correne Martin

In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, it wasn’t uncommon to see 50 or 60 ruffed grouse a day in this region. But now, no matter who you talk to, they aren’t seeing anywhere near that many of the small game bird locally. In fact, some might venture to say they’re pretty rare in these parts.

The ruffed grouse population has declined about 90 percent over the past few decades. The reason for fewer numbers in the area is a declining habitat base due to forests simply growing older, according to Scott Walter, regional wildlife biologist of the Ruffed Grouse Society.

But for some reason, Mike Mullikin, who owns 400 acres between County Highway N and the Kickapoo River in rural Wauzeka, has been befriended by a young male grouse he now considers a family pet. Don’t worry, he hasn’t disturbed nature and never wanted to do so. He doesn’t feed the grouse and hasn’t constructed a cozy little home for him among the farm buildings, but the grouse keeps coming around anyway. He has for over a year now.

Mullikin simply happened upon the grouse, who he named Henry and figures is about 3 years old, in the fall of 2014.

“We first met him in September,” Mullikin remembered, adding that it was hunting season and he had been doing some logging.

Generally, Henry can be found in the same spot, by a point in the field not too far from the farmstead. If you call for him and he’s around, he comes quickly flying. He coos beautifully as you get close to him and, when you reach out to touch him, he flutters his wings as he sort of jumps up and down, as if he’s happy to see you.

“He never runs from you. You can just sit here and put your hand out for him and he’ll come to you,” Mullikin said. “But he won’t let you catch him. If you get within a hand’s length, he’ll flap his wings. And he has pecked at me too.” Regardless, he doesn’t seem to want to take off; every time, he comes back for more attention.

Even after Henry has entertained his visitors for awhile, Mullikin added, you have to take off on a four-wheeler pretty fast, otherwise the little guy will fly right alongside.

Mullikin and the select few human visitors he’s permitted the pleasure of spending time getting to know Henry have been quite amused while interacting with the feathered friend. His kids, grandkids and hunter friends have especially loved seeing him.

Mullikin, a middle-aged, Wauzeka native who has lived on the family farm his entire life, isn’t sure why Henry has remained so tame and loyal to the family’s land. He just enjoys the bird’s company and has spent his share of time sitting calmly near him. He said he’s spoken with someone with the Ruffed Grouse Society who said the grouse that act as pets are most often males and they are not unheard of, though they are rare.

“They like prickly ash and we’ve got a lot of that in the area,” he noted. “But, I would think with all the coyotes around, he wouldn’t stay long. Sometimes, he’ll be gone for a few weeks at a time, but he always comes back.” Once Henry ventured away for six weeks’ time but still returned.

“There must be something he likes,” Mullikin wondered. “He’s just really neat.”

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