Q. When we start a lawn mower or an ATV (all-terrain vehicle), a male ruffed grouse comes running out of the woods and follows us around, close to our heels. He will hang around us all day if we are outside. He seems to like our company. How do you explain this behavior? How unusual is it?
A. DNR wildlife research group leader Dick Kimmel responds: In this day and age, when ruffed grouse are a prized game bird, it is very unusual to encounter such a tame ruffed grouse. Historically, however, they have been known to associate with humans—in fact, spruce and ruffed grouse were once referred to as fool hens because of their tameness toward people. Tameness becomes a disadvantage to a species when humans take individuals for food. Tameness is a trait that is quickly reduced in the gene pool. I can only assume that the ruffed grouse visiting your property has the genetics to produce a tame individual and has likely never had a negative encounter with humans.
It is interesting that your grouse comes out of the woods when you start an engine. I've heard that there are frequencies in an engine that are similar to a drumming ruffed grouse. The grouse might be mistaking your machinery for another grouse.
Q. I was cutting some downed trees last winter for firewood. I came across an oak about 14 inches in diameter. The inner 3 inches were rotted out and packed tight with dead deer mice. Would they have crammed in there to stay warm during the cold spell?
A. We think you came across a screech owl's pantry. Screech owls are notorious for stashing away food like this, according to Bob Fashingbauer, assistant manager at Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area. People have found such caches in wood-duck houses too.
Q. I would like to hunt for antler sheds this winter. When is the best time to begin? I live in the north metro area.
A. Deer typically shed their antlers in February or March in Minnesota, says DNR wildlife educator Jan Welsh. Check with your local DNR wildlife office for suggestions on times and places to look in your area.
Q. While walking through a field south of Rochester, I came upon a pile of rocks that had been removed from a farm field. Several of them were rather odd. They were made of thin layers that formed a ball-like shape that looks like it used to be the size of a cantaloupe. Can you tell me what they are?
A. Your layered rocks are likely the product of primitive life forms that lived in the area more than 400 million years ago, according to Minnesota Geological Survey chief geologist Tony Runkel. Known as fossil stromatolites, these dome-shaped structures formed when microorganisms deposited limy particles on the bottom of ancient seas. In southeastern Minnesota, stromatolites are most commonly found in a rock layer called the Prairie du Chien Group. The pieces you found in the farm field might have been carried there by a glacier. If you have the July-August 1996 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, you can learn more by checking out "The Rise and Fall of Stromatolites."
Q. While removing the breast from a grouse that looked like it was in good health, I saw a white worm about 11/4 inches long and 1/16 inch wide, stuck to the inside of the rib cage. It was a mature bird. I was in southeastern Cass County. I have seen this before and always discard the breast.
A. All birds get parasites. It would be hard to identify exactly what you encountered without seeing it, however. According to Ranjit Bhagyam, DNR Pathology Lab, it should be OK to eat the grouse as long as you clean it—remove the affected area if you wish—and cook it well.
Q. Has anyone ever tested vehicle-mounted deer whistles to determine if they work? I have used them for a number of years and have seen instances where a deer turned away from my vehicle as I approached it. But I have never seen a study that supports my feeling that they work.
West St. Paul
A. DNR deer project leader Glenn DelGiudice says he knows of one pertinent study. A project by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources found no clear indication that mule deer react to the sound created by two such devices. DelGiudice's advice for reducing the risk of deer-car collisions: Stay alert and stay within speed limit. Remember, when you see one deer, there probably are more. Expect the unexpected: Deer can't judge the speed of oncoming cars and can easily be confused, so they may not run away and may even run toward you. Also important: Be careful about swerving to avoid a deer and getting into even more trouble by losing control of your vehicle or hitting pedestrians or another vehicle.