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The curious case of Chicken Little

Sundre-area resident shares story of upland grouse who befriended him

SUNDRE — A resident who rents a property east of town was recovering last year from a serious operation when an unexpected visitor strutted and gobbled its way into his life, along the way providing a big boost to his morale and subsequent convalescence.

“I had a rough year last year,” Larry Carroll said candidly on June 16 during a phone interview.

Complications from a surgery on one of his legs had prompted Carroll’s physicians at Peter Lougheed Centre to urgently recommend an amputation.   

“I was going through an awful time of trying to save my leg,” he said, recalling a difficult conversation he had with his wife upon returning home with the hard news.  

That was about the time when he met his new fine-feathered friend.

“All of a sudden, this upland grouse arrived at my place, and within about two days basically took over,” he said.

Growing up, Carroll said he was once an avid hunter, and remembers how elusive those animals tend to be.

“If you hunt grouse, you try and find them — they’re gone,” he told The Albertan.

“But he moved right in, took right over.”

The first encounter occurred while Carroll -- who at the time had an apparatus on his leg called vacuum assisted closure dressing with a clear plastic tube running out to a bag on the side of his body -- was outside getting some fresh air.

The grouse was apparently quite curious about the device on his leg, and did not seem particularly shy about approaching him.

“He come and sit on my foot,” said Carroll.

“That’s very, very unusual for that type of bird to do that. They’re a game bird — they’re hunted.”

And his two canine companions were no match for the quick, clever fowl.

“I’ve got two German shepard dogs, and he put the run on them,” said Carroll.

Before long, he befriended the bird, which seemed to have become all but domesticated, even responding to being called.  

“I can come out the door and call ‘Chicken Little’ and then walk behind the shed, and he’ll be at our meeting spot — I’ve got an old stump there I go over and sit down on. And he comes, and he squats and gobbles and goes on,” he said.

“He pretty well runs the roost!” he added with a laugh.

For a period, Chicken Little continued making his rounds, occasionally returning for a visit without any expectation of reward.

“We don’t feed him or nothing. He won’t eat anything, I’ve tried grain,” said Carroll.

“No, he picks his own stuff up and he continues on his way. He’s quite the character.”

Chicken Little has even been known to frequent a nearby campground, where the owners also have dogs.

“He just gets right in with everybody. It’s really curious.”

Following another bout in the hospital, Carroll said he no longer saw the friendly fowl for the rest of last summer.

“He was gone — he might have found a mate, I don’t know.”

But that wasn’t the end of the tale.

Carroll, whose leg in the end was not amputated, said he tries to get outside to walk around as much as he can.

Earlier this season, he was out stretching and exercising his leg when out of the blue, “Lo and behold, who shows up but Chicken Little!”

Asked how he recognized the bird, he said the fowl has identifiable markings on him.

“He’s a rooster — he’s got a comb,” said Carroll.

“He’s really hard to see. But I can call him, and he’ll come. People don’t believe that — (but) he’ll come just like a kid,” he said.

“It’s quite hilarious, and everybody said I should make him famous!”   

However, Chicken Little seems to have become a bit more wary after starting to moult.

“You don’t see him flying as much,” said Carroll, adding the bird does still come trucking around low to the ground.

Although not a bird watcher, he acquired his knowledge of wildlife during his past days hunting.

“This is why I know it’s an upland grouse,” he said.

“Very seldom I’ve ever seen them down this far south,” he said, adding they’re more common farther north.  

Even with his past experience as a hunter, Carroll said he instead opted to capture Chicken Little with a camera.

“Instead of shooting them, it’s kind of neat to see them when they come right up to you,” he said.

While Chicken Little tends to respond to calls when he’s nearby, Carroll finds himself longing for the next encounter following an absence.

“Believe it or not, I miss the little bugger,” he said.

“He’s kind of family now.”

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up and a longtime columnist for other publications of Mountain View Publishing.
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