Known to many New Englanders as the partridge, the ruffed grouse is a solitary dweller in our northern woodlands, the size of a small chicken. Expertly camouflaged with its banded and speckled feathers in brown, gray, and white, it is often unseen by a passerby until it explodes into noisy flight. In the spring of the year, the male woos his mate with a courtship display, fanning his wide banded tail, flaring his eponymous neck ruff, and lifting his head crest, like a dancing warrior. But the defining nature of this performance is his drumming: standing on a favored log or stump, he beats the air with his wings, in a progressively faster thump…..thump….thump…thump..thump thump thump. The deep throbbing beat carries far through the trees and undergrowth, sounding like someone repeatedly trying to turn over an engine – very puzzling until one knows its source. These birds can still easily be found (when seen!) in the deciduous and coniferous forests of Sokoki territory. The landscape management practices of the indigenous people, the Sokwakiak – which can be termed agroecology – with controlled burning and specific forest selection, would have encouraged the varied edge habitat in which the ruffed grouse thrives. To this end, it can sometimes be seen on the edge of a roadside in the morning, picking up gravel for its gizzard and catching the early rays of the sun, or in the late afternoon, taking a dust bath. In characteristic Aln8ba8dwaw8gan fashion, the Western Abenaki name for this warrior of the woods is pakesso, the drummer. The word for drum itself is pakholigan, an instrument/tool for hitting. From Kerry Hardy’s Notes on a Lost Flute:
The ubiquitous Algonquian root pok-, which indicates some kind of hitting or beating, shows up in the following [ruffed grouse] names: pahpahkahas (Natick), paupock (Narragansett), pohpohkussu (Massachusett), and pakess8 (Loup, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy).