Rise in counts is unexpected surprise
Madison – An unexpected increase in ruffed grouse drumming
documented this spring appears to be the real deal.
DNR wildlife managers, technicians, foresters, law enforcement
personnel, and Ruffed Grouse Society volunteers conduct roadside
surveys each spring to obtain an index of drumming activity.
The survey, which has been conducted annually since 1964, provides
an index to show changes in grouse drumming activity and possible
population trends. The survey is not intended to produce an actual
population count of grouse.
This spring’s drumming count revealed a 38-percent increase over
“The southwest study region showed the greatest increase in
drumming activity over last year with a 118-percent increase, with
all routes either increasing or remaining stable,” said Scott
Walter, DNR upland wildlife ecologist.
“The central and northern regions both showed healthy increases of
31 and 43 percent, respectively,” he said. The only region that did
not increase was the southeast where there is little grouse
Walter originally was surprised, because last year drumming counts
were down 5 percent, and many people expected the cycle to begin
But then the Minnesota DNR released its drumming index on June 21,
indicating that ruffed grouse drumming counts increased by 18
percent in that state’s northeast region, the core of its grouse
“I was interested to see what Minnesota had to say. Their results
corroborate what we found here,” he said.
Walter added that a research project in 2009 and 2010 in northern
Minnesota noted a marked drop in drumming activity in April 2010.
This coincided with a major dose of warm weather when the grouse
“If you think about this, we went up in 2009, then our survey
showed a bit of a drop last year and a big jump up this year,”
Walter said. “Part of that drop last year may have been due to that
warm spell that quieted grouse down here also.”
This could indicate that last year was an anomaly and this year
shows the true trend – there could well be more grouse on the
landscape this fall.
The advantage of the survey is to show trends from one year to the
next. Walter said the surveys include the same routes that have
been run for many years – and often by the same people who have run
the routes in past years.
Grouse research literature refers to the ruffed grouse cycle, which
varies with peaks and valleys, hitting peaks about every 8 to 11
To confuse matters, two state areas, the Sandhill Wildlife Area in
Wood County and Stone Lake Experimental Area in Oneida County,
where DNR researchers attempt to do a complete census of drumming
males, decreased slightly this year.
Sandhill decreased 17 percent while Stone Lake decreased 10
The DNR’s Ruffed Grouse Management Team met in mid-June to discuss
the Woodcock Young Forest Initiative, coordinated with the Wildlife
Management Institute. As woodcock numbers have declined, the
agencies are looking for ways to enhance woodcock habitat, which
also benefits other early successional species, such as ruffed
grouse and golden-winged warblers.
“We’re trying to merge the work to benefit several species,” Walter
said. “We want to zero in on areas where habitat management will
benefit both woodcock and golden-winged warblers.”
The committee is looking at far northeastern, north-central, and
northwestern Wisconsin for areas that could bring in outside
dollars to improve habitat that would benefit both species.