Ruffed grouse numbers take a big jump in state

Grand Rapids, Minn. – Ruffed grouse drum counts in the state
have risen dramatically this year, following three consecutive
years of moderate increases.

Statewide drum counts saw a 43-percent increase from last year,
and counts in the core of the grouse range – the northeast – were
up 44 percent.

“This year is the big jump that we have been hoping for,” said
Mike Larson, DNR_research scientist and grouse biologist. “We’ve
been kind of creeping out of the bottom of the trough and had
steady and relatively small increases over the past few years.”

As part of the drum counts, DNR staff and others surveyed 132
routes. At each stop along the route, observers listen for four
minutes and record the number of ruffed grouse drums they hear.

The statewide average this year was two drums per stop, up from
1.4 drums per stop last year. In the northeast, the average was 2.4
drums per stop, a 43-percent increase from last year.

Counts increased in the northwest from 0.9 drums per stop to 1.9
drums per stop, and the counts in the central hardwoods and
southeast – 1.1 drums per stop and 0.5 drums per stop, respectively
– were similar to last year.

Counts range from 0.8 drums per stop in years of low ruffed
grouse abundance to about 1.9 drums per stop in years of high
grouse abundance, according to the DNR. Grouse populations tend to
rise and fall on a 10-year cycle.

The increase corresponds with anecdotal reports from earlier
this spring that suggested people were seeing and hearing a lot of
grouse in the woods. And it should make for a good fall for
hunters.

Annual grouse harvest ranges from about 150,000 grouse to 1.4
million, and averages about 545,000.

“The two ends of the cycle are pretty obvious to most people, I
think,” Larson said about the number of birds hunters see when
they’re hunting. “If production is good this spring, and hunting in
the fall is correlated with the spring drumming counts – as it
usually is – then (the increase in birds) should be fairly
noticeable.”

Harsh weather at the end of the winter can be tough on ruffed
grouse hens and affect egg production, but so far things are
looking good.

“We haven’t had any weather since they started hatching (in late
May) that I would say would be real detrimental to grouse chicks,”
Larson said. “There is no weather-related reason that production
shouldn’t be pretty good this year.”

How long will it last?

The grouse population cycle isn’t precise and grouse numbers
tend to rise for four to eight years before falling again.

Counts this year are as high as 1978, 1989, and 1998 – the three
previous peaks – but Larson said it’s impossible to know if the
population will dip next year or continue to increase. He noted
that one of the peaks in the early 1970s was even higher than this
year’s counts.

“Predicting the peak is impossible; you never know (when the
peak occurs) until the population comes down again,” Larson said.
“There certainly is room at the top for the counts to continue to
come up, but we are at the fourth year of increases, and the last
three peaks have been at the ends of the decade – in those years
ending in eights and nines.”

The amount of young forest habitat in the state is one reason
why Minnesota is a top destination for grouse. About 11.5 million
of the state’s 16.3 million acres of forest is grouse habitat,
according to the DNR.

Sharp-tailed grouse

Like ruffed grouse counts, sharp-tailed grouse counts increased
in the northwest part of the state. The increase between 2008 and
2009 was 15 percent.

There was a slight decline in the east-central survey area.

As part of that survey, observers count the number of
sharp-tailed grouse that are displaying on mating areas.

The statewide mean this year was 13.6 sharp-tailed grouse per
dancing ground, which is above last year’s average of 12.4 and as
high as any year since 1980.

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