Annual survey indicates unexpected rise in Wisconsin ruffed grouse population

Three out of four regions show
increase

There is good news for ruffed grouse hunters coming from 2011
spring drumming counts. Department of Natural Resources wildlife
officials report that Wisconsin’s ruffed gouse population appears
to have increased from last year, according to data collected by
wildlife staff, foresters, wardens, and countless volunteers.

“Statewide, the ruffed grouse population increased about 38
percent between 2010 and 2011,” said Scott Walter, DNR upland
wildlife ecologist.

“The southwest study region showed the greatest increase in
drumming activity over the last year with a 118 percent increase,
with all routes either increasing or remaining stable,” said
Walter. “The central and northern regions both showed healthy
increases of 31 percent and 43 percent, respectively.” No drumming
grouse were heard on transects run in the southeast region, which
contains the least amount of grouse cover in the state.

Grouse populations in northern Wisconsin tend to cycle
predictably over an 8- to 11-year period. The previous high was in
1999, and it was assumed that Wisconsin had reached the peak of the
current grouse cycle two years ago, in 2009. Biologists interpreted
the reported 5 percent decrease in drumming activity observed
during the 2010 survey as an indication that the ruffed grouse
population had begun its cyclic downswing.

This year’s robust increase in drumming activity, however,
suggests that perhaps Wisconsin hunters and wildlife enthusiasts
have yet to see the peak in the current population cycle.

“This is surprising, and potentially very good news for grouse
hunters in the state,” said Walter. “It will be interesting to see
if survey results indicate similar increases in other parts of the
upper Midwest. It’s important to note, however, that good
brood-rearing conditions over the next few weeks will also be
important in determining how many grouse hunters can expect to
flush come September.”

Ruffed grouse are one of Wisconsin’s most popular upland game
birds. Their characteristic “drumming” noise is readily recognized
and is produced by males during the spring breeding season. The
male grouse will stand on drumming logs and rapidly beat their
wings with the intention of attracting female grouse. They are
closely linked to young forest habitats that develop following
large disturbances, notably logging activities.

“While we often focus as hunters on grouse numbers in a single
year, it’s important to remember that the long-term health of
grouse and other early-successional wildlife is dependent upon our
ability to create the dense young cover they require,” Walter
added. “Lacking significant, broad-scale forms of natural
disturbance such as fire, we need to ensure that intensive timber
harvests remain a component of our forest management
activities.”

Ruffed grouse drumming surveys are divided into four regions
around the state. Each spring since 1964, wildlife biologists,
wardens, foresters, members of the Ruffed Grouse Society, and other
volunteers have driven survey routes, stopping to listen at
predetermined locations for the unmistakable sound of drumming
ruffed grouse. These drumming counts and observational data on
breeding success allow biologists to track grouse population
changes.

“Ruffed grouse drumming surveys are helpful in tracking
statewide population changes over the long term,” says Sharon
Fandel, assistant upland wildlife ecologist. “However, they are not
necessarily the best predictors of local harvest or hunting
opportunities. The most successful hunters are usually those who
spend the most time in the field and cover the most ground.”

There are two ruffed grouse hunting zones in the state. The hunting dates for Zone A are
Sept. 17, 2011 through Jan. 31, 2012. The dates for Zone B are Oct.
15, 2011 through Dec. 8, 2011. Daily bag limits are five birds per
day in Zone A and two birds per day in Zone B. Possession limits
are twice the daily bag limit. Additional information can be found
on the ruffed grouse page of the DNR website.

 

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