Survey: grouse down, turkeys, pheasants up

Madison — According to preliminary 2014 brood survey results, Wisconsin’s turkey flock saw an increase in the number and size of broods observed. Pheasant brood numbers have increased compared to last year, but ruffed grouse production was down in several regions.

State wildlife officials say an increase in turkey and pheasant broods is encouraging – wildlife in many areas of the state experienced a severe winter with extended periods of low temperatures, higher-than-average snowfall, and a slightly later-than-normal green-up this past spring.

“Brood production surveys for these species were conducted by DNR field personnel during the months of June, July, and August as they went about their normal work duties,” said Brian Dhuey, DNR wildlife survey coordinator. “These data are still preliminary and may change, but they can be used as an index to production and will help provide a forecast for fall hunting prospects.”

Wisconsin’s brood-rearing conditions in 2014 were average for temperature, with much of the state seeing average or slightly below-average temperatures in June and July and average temperatures in August. 

Above-average precipitation was normal for much of Wisconsin in June, with the state average at 2.53 inches above normal. Precipitation levels returned to normal or below normal in July and August in the southern parts of the state, but remained at average or above-average levels in the northwest.

Weather conditions in early June are critical for turkey, pheasant, and grouse broods, as this is when recently hatched chicks are most susceptible to hypothermia if they get wet. Large rains in much of Wisconsin may have affected brood survival in June, but weather conditions during July and August were excellent for brood-rearing and survival.


Three out of five DNR regions showed a decrease in turkey observation rates compared with last year. The largest changes occurred in the south-central, western, and southeast regions, with decreases of 30 percent, 14 percent, and 4 percent, respectively. The northeast region saw a 73-percent increase, while the northern region experienced a 12-percent boost. The statewide observation rate was 22 percent above the long-term average. The average brood size documented in 2014 was 4.5 poults per brood, up from 4.2 in 2013.

“In 2014, turkeys were a real bright spot in Wisconsin, with an overall 22-percent increase in the number of broods seen per observer-hour and an increase in the size of the broods seen compared to 2013,” said Scott Walter, DNR upland wildlife ecologist. “Despite a long and hard winter and late spring, the department received many reports of turkeys having broods with small chicks late in the brood-observation period – an indication of successful late nesting or re-nesting.”


Compared with 2013, the number of pheasant broods seen per observer-hour saw a 32-percent increase in 2014.

Pheasant production saw a 4-percent decline in the primary pheasant range, but experienced a 108-percent increase in the secondary pheasant range from 2013 levels.

Pheasant brood size was down, with an average of 4.7 young per brood in 2014 versus 5.2 in 2013.

“While pheasant brood numbers rebounded in 2014, overall breeding numbers have been declining for the past several years,” Dhuey said. “This decline was likely impacted by a significant loss of grassland habitat. Overall, pheasant numbers are down from the highs experienced in the 1990s.”
Ruffed grouse

Statewide, ruffed grouse broods seen per observer-hour were down 10 percent compared with 2013 levels. Ruffed grouse production saw an increase of 56 percent in the southwestern region of the state, but dropped in the remaining two regions comprising the primary ruffed grouse range, with decreases of 59 percent and 2 percent in the central and northern regions, respectively.

Ruffed grouse brood size rose slightly from 3.8 young per brood in 2013 to 4.0 in 2014.

“While some areas of the primary ruffed grouse range will be better than others, it appears that ruffed grouse numbers will be no better than last year and well below their cyclic high experienced a few years ago,” Walter said. 

“We anticipated a continued population decline as grouse progress through their 9- to 11-year population cycle, so these numbers are not unexpected. The grouse population should reach its cyclic low within the next couple of years before beginning its climb back to the top.”

Gray partridge

No gray partridge broods were seen in 2014, the same as in 2013. While pockets of gray partridge still exist around their historic range, they are well below the noted highs that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, and no longer occur at levels that are detectable by this survey.

All survey results are preliminary and subject to change upon the collection of further data and additional analysis, Dhuey said.

Public lands

Those interested in hunting on DNR-managed lands and discovering new spots may check out the DNR’s new FFLIGHT tool. FFLIGHT helps hunters of all types locate young aspen and alder habitat, pheasant-stocked public hunting grounds, and managed dove fields.

Features within FFLIGHT will help hunters locate DNR public parking areas, overlay township descriptions, and view topographic maps or aerial photos of possible hunting areas. Each user may choose which type of habitat to highlight. For example, FFLIGHT can help you find the best grouse cover in the woods near your cabin.

The FFLIGHT mapping application is compatible with all major desktop and mobile web browsers (internet access is required).

Categories: Hunting News, Social Media, Turkey

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