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Outdoors Encounter leads to uncommon association

GusNature moves in on Macon County resident.

Living in the mountains, folks are liable to encounter all manner of wildlife, bears in the recent past and deer, and smaller game like rabbits, groundhogs and squirrels that become regulars in their backyards. Enthusiastic nature lovers will often seek to attract wildlife by putting out species-appropriate food like birdseed for birds or corn for the native white-tail deer. Few, however, have made hard and fast friends by hitting them with a car.

Gene Schley was nearly home one day last April when a grouse flew up and collided with the hood of his car. Concerned for the welfare of whatever he hit, he got out of his car to investigate. The bird was sitting in a ditch, appeared to be dazed, but otherwise didn’t seem to have suffered any potential lifethreatening injury. He gingerly placed the victim just off the road so the bird could regain his faculties. Thinking he had done the right thing and confident that the bird would recover and fly away, Schley got into his car to continue his drive home. A few yards up the road, he decided he shouldn’t just leave it there. So he went back to where he left the bird, picked it up and carefullly placed it in his back seat, with absolutely no objection from the bird. He took it to a neighbor’s house half a mile up the road. His neighbor had an unused chicken coop where the bird could recover and then be on its merry way.

Gene Schley’s neighbor tries Gus the Grouse out with a twostep. She stepped to the left and Gus stepped, too. She stepped to the right and Gus was right there with her.Turns out, the bird hung out for about an hour and a half and took off. Where did he end up? Back at Schley’s house a half a mile away.

By this time, Schley is scratching his head, wondering what the deal is with this bird. So, Schley goes on about his business. Most evenings, he sits out in the garage in the cool of the day just to do nothing for a little while. And now the bird has a name. Schley calls him “Gus.”

Gus hops around with a little chirping noise, getting closer and closer to Schley until finally, he hops up on his knee. Schley says Gus is very deliberate and methodical about his progress. Schley says he can tell his change in mood by the singsong of his chirping. It takes him about 20 minutes to go from his knee to his arm where he “gets comfortable,” and his chirp seemingly changes to a sound of contentment.

Gene Schley goes for a morning walk and Gus the Grouse tags along.If this interaction wasn’t bizarre enough, every morning, Schley goes for a threemile walk around his property and Gus is right there with him. Sometimes he intercepts him through the woods “as the crow flies” and joins him in his walk.

The neighbors are even talking. Several have stopped by to observe this uncommon association. Gus doesn’t necessarily take kindly to strangers. Even though he doesn’t go into attack mode, he is very cautious about who socializes with his buddy, Gene. While Schley gets painless little “love pecks” from Gus, visitors tend to get touches that are a little more intense — when he deems them worthy enough to even associate with.

Not only is Gus a walking companion and a “watch bird,” he’s also a pretty fair dancer. Schley’s neighbor tried him out on a two-step. She would step to the left and Gus would follow. And just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, she stepped to the right and Gus was stepping out right there with her.

Schley says if Gus wants a little attention, he will peck on the screen at the back door. If Schley doesn’t answer, Gus will go around to the front door and peck on the glass. Schley says he’s actually been in the house a couple of times.

Gene Schley and his friend Gus the Grouse play a nightly game. (From top clockwise) Gus starts out on the ground, then tentatively hops up on Schley’s leg, progressing methodically to his knee. After several minutes, Gus will hop to his arm and then finally “get comfortable” on his chest, chirping contentedly. Schley says the process takes about 20 minutes. Photos providedSchley lives in the westernmost part of Macon County in a protected wildlife sanctuary which borders on the Nantahala Wilderness Area and no hunting is allowed. He has always had wild animals around his home but this is the first time he has been adopted by one of them. He has never fed Gus or enticed him in any way to remain near the house. Gus has just made it his home.

A surprising aspect of this story is the fact that Schley is away for weeks at a time, traveling back and forth to Florida and Gus is there when he gets back. Schley is surprised as anybody at the loyalty that Gus has shown. Apparently Schley has been forgiven for hitting him with his car.


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