Madison — Roadside ruffed grouse surveys completed this spring showed statewide drumming activity increased 17 percent from 2016, based on data collected to monitor breeding grouse activity.
Complete survey results are posted on the DNR website.
“An increase in breeding grouse activity hopefully will mean an increase in grouse nesting and brood rearing, which could mean more grouse for hunters to pursue this fall,” said DNR wildlife survey coordinator Brian Dhuey.
“Ruffed grouse populations are known to rise and fall over a nine- to 11-year cycle, and the last peak in Wisconsin’s cycle occurred in 2011. Survey results suggest that we have passed the low point in the population cycle and have started the increasing phase, which should continue the next few years as the grouse population moves toward the next peak.”
Roadside surveys to monitor the number of breeding grouse have been conducted by staff from the DNR, U.S. Forest Service, tribal employees, and volunteers since 1964.
The survey showed an overall 17 percent increase from 2016. The northern (up 30 percent) and southwest regions showed increases, while the southeast (no change) and central regions (down 13 percent) remained stable or showed small declines. While increases in the southwest part of the state were the largest by percentage (55 percent), the total numbers were very small.
This area is not within the primary range for grouse. The increase in activity in southwestern Wisconsin follows near historic lows and likely would not significantly add to grouse abundance in the state.
Results from the 2017 survey show that grouse populations in the southwest and southeast region remain well below historic levels.
The grouse habitat factor
According to Mark Witecha, a DNR upland wildlife ecologist, maturation of southern Wisconsin’s forest and the loss of dense, brushy areas that grouse need for cover have resulted in lower numbers of regional grouse in recent decades.
“Ruffed grouse rely on dense, young forest cover resulting from disturbances such as fire and logging,” said Witecha. “Beyond actively managing state lands, the DNR is working to provide suitable grouse habitat through an extensive collaborative effort known as the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership. The partnership provides technical and financial assistance for young forest management on private lands, benefitting ruffed grouse and other wildlife species by helping maintain healthy and diverse forest communities.”
Grouse numbers at the Sandhill Wildlife Area were down in 2017 by 26 percent (46 vs. 62 birds in 2016). Sandhill Wildlife Area (Wood County) is in the central region of the state, where the survey showed a decrease of 13 percent. The unhunted portion of the wildlife area (1,300 acres) decreased by five birds in 2017 (17 vs. 22 in 2016). The hunted portion (2,020 acres) had a decrease in breeding grouse, with 29 birds counted in 2017, down from 40 in 2016. The Stone Lake census area survey in Oneida County was discontinued in 2015.