Sometimes, you have to look on the sunny side of life. And get a laugh when you get the chance.

I was walking down a bush trail to the lake, when off to my left I heard a noise and a lot of sounds like cracking branches. Something was heading my way quickly. I looked in the direction of the noise and didn’t see anything big and black, so it wasn’t a bear. That was a relief. Maybe it was a wolf or a fox, but before I could get the blur into focus, I was surprised it was at my feet. And I was wearing Crocs, not steel toed boots.

I looked down and it was a spruce hen. It was all puffed up, wings partially displayed, and tail feather spread out and shaking. It was trying to look as big and menacing as possible.

I stood there, very still. It may have been trying to look big and tough, but I was not buying it. It was a mother spruce hen. Obviously trying to stop me from getting near its chicks. But it was a spruce hen. What was it going to do? Try to peck me to death? I’ve heard of spruce hens scaring people, but in all my years in the bush, I have never heard of one actually attacking or hurting anyone.

If there were killer spruce hens lurking in the bush, I’m fairly sure I would have heard of them by now. In a battle between a spruce hen and a human, I would put my bets on the humans. Well on most humans. So, I just stood there. I got the camera out and took a few pictures. As I looked at her, I wondered what was going through her mind, because we were in a bit of a standoff.

I am betting the main thought was “What now? I have done my best scary noise routine and got all puffed up and this doofus is just standing there. He should have run off in terror or he should chase after me, so I can lead him away from my brood. What am I supposed to do now? There is no way, I am going to try to attack anything as big and funny looking like humans. But we can’t just stand here all day.”

So, I moved forward a little and the spruce hen moved back into the bush a little. I slowly moved along the trail, and she slowly moved farther back into the bush. I did not want to disturb her, so I was not going to try to find the chicks. That would just upset her and them, needlessly. So, we had a woodland encounter that ended well.

Realistically, a big crashing noise in the bush, especially one that is coming at you, can be pretty scary. Who knows, it could be a herd of marauding bears or an especially angry bush rat. I usually try to remind myself, that before taking flight, it helps if you know what you are dealing with because you may not be able to outrun them. Besides running scared through the bush can be a rather painful experience and definitely not a good idea.

The old “Hinterlands Who’s Who” shows should have done a series of critters in the wilds that can scare the crap out of you. Spruce hens being one. In the fall you can be walking along, minding your own business when a family of spruce hens explodes into flight all around you.

One fellow told me he had a picture window in his cabin. One day he was looking out of it and saw a spruce hen coming his way and it smashed through the window. Darned near gave him a heart attack.

So, the birds can scare you and one wonders if those cute little spruce hens might be responsible for some heart attacks in the bush. Or people hear them and hurt themselves running away. Maybe they aren’t so sweet and innocent after all. They could be a Hinterlands Secret Menace.

Sure, they warn you about the bears, but no one tells you about the sinister spruce hens.

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  1. I live in North Carolina and I love reading Walt’s column. Watch out for those spruce hens!