Friday, October 21, 2016

The Alfred E. Neumans of the bird world

A grape-sized brain with no frontal lobe whatsoever
Smart as a partridge.
Did you ever hear that expression? No, never. In fact, "smart" and "partridge" don't even belong in the same sentence.
You do hear them referred to as feathered rockets, and that metaphor is fairly appropriate.
Like a rocket, partridge, aka ruffed grouse, "blast off." They leave the earth with a thunderous explosion of beating wings, usually right at your feet, the shock and sound of which must certainly have arrested some human hearts over the years. Also like rockets, partridge use up all of their fuel in short order and then rely on their stubby wings to make subtle course corrections.
It is this method of flight that gets the partridge into trouble here at camp. That, plus the fact that the partridge has a brain the size of a grape and, apparently, none of it composed of frontal lobe, the part which, in humans at least, would let them consider the consequences of their actions. It's as if they are perpetually stuck in a risky, adolescent stage of life.
They are also pretty fast fliers, reaching speeds of up to 50 mph before they exhaust their energy and go into a glide. That speed, and the fact they weigh about a pound, is more than enough force to do serious damage to windows and porch screens. If you remember your high school physics, f = ma.
At Bow Narrows we also have another factor to consider -- elevation. Across the narrows is a hill, Mike's Mountain we call it. If a partridge launches himself from the top and heads toward camp he is really whistling when he reaches our side. Not good for a bird who has no hesitation to fly through little spaces between branches just guessing that there is nothing to hit out of view.
We all hold our breaths when we see a partridge crossing the channel. Sometimes we project the bird's flight path and realize to our horror that when he launched from the mountain top, 250 yards away, he selected for his landing site not the expansive lawn in front of the camp, not the cabin roofs or even the spaces between the cabins -- none of those obvious places. Instead he set his sights on a tiny "opening" beneath the cabin eaves, something you and I and the rest of the world call a window.
"No, no, no, NOOOO!" we shriek as the brown bullet heads toward the six-paned feature. "Pull-up! Abort! Abort!"
Sure,  the bird sees the reflection in the glass and thinks it is an opening but at some point he also must see the white sash dividers. They are just 10 x 12 inches apart.
"I'm pretty sure I can make it," says the partridge. He tugs at the straps of his tiny goggles, folds his wings and hits the pane dead center in an explosion of glass and feathers and cries of "Oh, the humanity!" from onlookers.
A minute later his head reappears perched atop a scrawny neck now missing a lot of its feathers.
"Did you see that? he asks. "That was AWESOME!"
Then he glances at the porch screen next to the window. "Next time I bet I could take that entire thing out!"

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