Forget the bears and the cougars…I need grouse safety training!

On Sunday Keith and I headed out to the mountains for a hike and for supper with my cousin who has just moved to Canmore. We were supposed to meet up with Leela and her friend for a short hike in the Banff area, but due to car troubles, Leela and Jennie couldn’t make the hike.

We set out on a beautiful day with no idea what was in store…

Keith and I decided to go anyways and headed up to C Level Cirque, an easy hike near Lake Minnewanka. Since we were following the directions from our hiking book that is 30 years old, we got a little bit turned around and headed down the wrong trail (who knew that a meadow in 1978 would now be a parking lot?!). It was quite

He came right up as if to say “Hello, welcome to my home!”

flat and wide and snowy and we were only about 500 metres in when a male spruce grouse flew over top of us and landed right in our path.

He was a good looking bird, really fat with the beautiful red patches on his eyes. He strutted across the trail approaching us and must have been less than three feet away. Keith immediately pulled out the camera and started snapping pictures, and we joked how if our friend Thompy had been there the poor guy would have been dinner. We could practically reach out and pet him!

And a little closer…

But then the terror started…

He suddenly jumped into the air flying directly at us! We both started yelling and laughing and trying to get away. He landed again before heading in for another assault! We were both flailing around at this point, me screaming at Keith to put the camera away. Just as Keith got the camera into his pocket the bird attacked him again, this time in defence he threw his foot out making a connection – but it didn’t help! The bird just came hurtling right back in! This time Keith managed to punch him and send him flying into the bushes before sprinting down the trail.

But now he had us separated! Keith was about 50 metres down the trail and the little bugger just waddled right into the middle and started pacing back and forth giving both of us the evil eye. It was so creepy that he kept attacking us that I had the shakes at this point. I couldn’t stop laughing, screaming, and swearing all at the same time. It was crazy!

So I decided the only way to get by was just to give’r. I put my hood up, made sure my sun glasses were on, let out a war cry and started sprinting towards Keith. At first the bird didn’t do anything…that is until I had my back to him. Then he took off in a flurry of feathers and attacked! Just as I heard Keith yell “Put your arms up! He’s coming for you!” I felt his talons touch down on my head. Good thing I had put my hood up or he might have gotten my hat! I screamed, throwing my hands up and keeping up my sprint. As soon as I got to Keith he joined me as we got out of there as fast as we could!

There he is, right in between us. Notice the hood up and hand in front of the face technique; it only proved to be moderately effective.

Now here comes the creepiest part (I know what you’re thinking… there’s more?! And these guys are the biggest wusses ever!). The darn bird stalked us! For a whole kilometre and a half!!! After a few hundred metres we stopped running and looked back and he wasn’t there. So we kept moving forward, glancing backwards every now and then just in time to catch him swooping in to the bushes on the side of the trail as if he was trying not to let us see him. This continued on until finally he left us alone.

The unfortunate thing is that not too far later we realized we’d taken the wrong trail and had to back track. But the darn grouse was in between us and our car! So we practised our bear safety and took a different route giving the grouse a wide birth. We ended up walking on the highway for two kilometres just so the stupid thing was left alone!

In my natural environments class we have learned bear and cougar safety in the mountains. But NO ONE had prepared us for a grouse attack! I texted Thompy to say that we had needed him and his obvious advice was to kill it with a rock…that he had an excellent recipe that he had used just a few weeks earlier. But alas we were in a National Park and I’m pretty sure hunting there is a criminal offence.

We finally escaped the grouse, got on the right trail and enjoyed our hike!

Later on I googled and it turns out that attacks like these are quite common. There are some hilarious stories online about the birds doing the same thing. One even attached itself onto a kid’s jacket with it’s beak and wouldn’t let go!

It’s weird because the natural thing to think is that it was protecting a nest, but it’s November and was about -12 celcius. Does anyone know if male grouse stay with their young for a while? Or if they are just super territorial? Or if this one was just a crazy mother****er looking for a fight?

Either way, if you are heading out to C Level Cirque, make sure you take the right trail! And if you don’t and you get attacked…don’t say I didn’t warn you!!!

7 thoughts on “Forget the bears and the cougars…I need grouse safety training!

  1. What a story! We can laugh now, but clearly there were moments that you weren’t then. Have you seen the movie by Alfred Hitchkock, The Birds? It’s pretty scary. Don’t know if that would be a good one to watch or if it would embed the fearful feelings even deeper.
    Glad you’re both home and safe.
    🙂 Barbara

    • You’re not the first one the mention Hitchcock! I haven’t seen it…and you’re right, not sure I want to! I talked to my prof today, she had no idea what he was thinking! I don’t think I mentioned it in the blog but we talked with a woman in the parking lot and she a) was totally deadpan – did not think it was funny at all and b) said that in no circumstance should we have punched/kicked/flailed: that we should have bear sprayed it. But there was no way! The bear spray would have done MUCH more harm to US than the bird!

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